Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Mysore

The pie I made with my family's pie crust recipe was delicious. It tasted like love. I knew it would be because I could feel my mother's knowledge in my hands, I could smell my Grandmother's kitchen as I stirred, kneaded, rolled, sprinkled, tasted, checked, etc. For an Indian twist, I added pineapple to the apple filling and made it with Jaggery (pressed sugar cane juice, a staple sweetener in these parts) instead of white sugar. It was quite fun hunting for things to make pie with, also. The Mysore Devaraj Market quite an adventure. Everywhere flowers and oils and pots and pans and people huddled on tabletops wrapping, sorting, shouting, tossing, catching, and selling, selling, selling. No one had heard of pie. So pie pans were out of the question. I made do with cake pans drudged up from the dusty corner of some seller's stall.

The parties were lovely. The drinks were a little too plenty. The music was a blast. The food was a delight. Not only was there amazing apple pie, but also barbecued paneer and veggies, amazing fruit salads, pizza, hummus, sweets, all kinds of things the many yogis who congregated had made themselves for the festivities. I have started to realize how much drama can begin to accumulate in even the most zen communities, however. It made me chuckle to realize how many of the men were hunting for women, and how the women definitely gossip about each other. I have managed to stay out of the drama, though I tend to stay updated during the evening hang-out sessions in Joe's room.

Christmas morning was quite a lot like home, sans family. Chocolate eating first thing followed by gifts (Team Iyengar gift exchange) and then breakfast. Joe gave me a Lungi, a traditional kind of sarong worn by men, which I wear proudly around my apartment and front porch. Instead of cinnamon rolls for breakfast in fleece pajamas, I had chow chow bath and idlis in the warm mid-morning sunshine.

While Christmas definitely isn't the same without my friends and family back home, it was indeed quite pleasant, which is kind of how I feel about the entirety of my time here in Mysore so far. I love it here, but I won't be missing Christmas with my family next year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

If it's not this or that it's the other thing

Joe said I had Yoga Fever. Apparently lots of people come here and do too much yoga and then get a fever for a day or two. I don’t know if it was the yoga or the food or missing my family so much during the holidays that did it, but I was up for a couple of nights either moaning in pain and thinking I had Malaria, or trying desperately to breathe through my nose and stop my mouth from salivating so much. The day I felt better was the day the tears came. My friend Annie sat with me on a random curb that morning, supplying me with tissues while everything poured from me…everything I have been trying to be so strong about. But being strong sometimes means crying instead of not crying. The tear phase hasn’t really ended. “Have you gotten your period, Wren?” Joe asked me as I told him about my day.

The air in India is especially disgusting to the sickly. Everyone reading this at home should take a deep breath of the air around them and be thankful for it. Coughing has taken on a new meaning to me, here.

I am feeling better now, though. I got to talk to my Mommy, whom I miss more than I thought I would. Nothing like a fever and the holidays to make little ol’ me miss my mother like crazy. Halloween was fine, Thanksgiving was fine, but the impending Christmas without my family is feeling very hard. Although my Christmas will be quite fun, I believe. A lot of cooking and a little gift exchanging with Team Iyengar. We have a house with an oven to spend Christmas day at, so I am planning to make pies with my mother’s pie crust recipe. If I can’t have my Mom, I can at least have her pie.

I have narrowed down my list of things that are important to me and my life to five generalizations: my family, my community, yoga, fashion/fiber arts, and music. Simple enough, I think.

At the Shala, I am known as “the Girl.” I am still not sure if Guruji even knows my name, and I am also the only female and have been for ages, now. Women come and don’t come back, possibly because they have been frightened off by the harsh scolding the Guru gives everyone when they first start with him. The other day, when I finished my Mudras course, he showed me the certificate I have earned which he will be giving me when I leave. It certifies that I have completed teacher training.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

See Wren Learn to Chill the F**k Out

The longer I am here in Mysore, the more I revert back into my predictable habits...This morning I sat having painted my toenails, listening to metal (Dragonforce), sketching clothing designs and dreaming up song lyrics, having finished my yoga practice early this morning as usual. Things do not feel very different from home at this point, especially considering how at home I am feeling in my apartment. Of course a lot of things are different from my life in out West. I drink a lot more tea, eat a lot more chow chow bath, i get up and go to sleep three hours earlier than usual, I meditate everyday, I wear bindis and bangles and drawstring pants! (I can hear Carlee chortling from here...) I do not have my birds or my friends or my family nearby, my computer, or cell phone, or television set. A lot is happening inside me that is different. There was a point somewhere when some great channel in my body started to open up and now I can tap into it whenever I want. Like I cleaned out one of my inner closets and turned it into a temple that I find myself hanging out in more and more. I am more aware of my body as a sacred space. It amazes me and makes me happy.

It is eery...this sense of comfort. The fact that Mysore has become so easy, so livable, so wonderful, is tempting me to feel very wary, like there is something I should be worrying about. But I am starting to realize how little I actually have to even consider worrying about, and how much I have been trained to worry almost constantly for most of my life. I am starting to have worry consciousness. Next on my list is boredom consciousness. I challenge myself to not become bored easily. Doing nothing should be luxurious, not a headache.

Speaking of headaches, I found that I was dreading Hindi to the point of headache, and it was draining the energy I have for playing music, so I decided to give it a rest and perhaps pick the subject back up when I come here next. Hopefully then I will have a study buddy. Also, perhaps next time I will go for a more practical crash course, seeing as how I have learned to slowly read and write in Hindi, and pronounce everything, but I had to learn phrases like "How are you?" from my Dutch friend (maybe I will get HER to teach me Hindi!)

Part of what I am realizing about myself at the is point in my journey is that I need to practice not exhausting myself. I find the need to know and learn too many things at once can get to be as compulsive as a shopping or food addiction. Yoga is a mountain (or rather a vast, never-ending stairway to heaven) and Hindi is another kind of mountain. Perhaps it's best to climb one mountain at a time. At least for now.

On a completely different not, I went to a party yesterday and played a few songs as an opening act for an amazing Indian sitar/tabla duo. The tabla player played along with me and the sitar player called for my encore and after the concert, we all had a dance party. Every Indian I have met so far is a good dancer!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bangalore again, music, and other things...

A couple days ago Team Iyengar (the posse I practice and take many a meal with) and I took a two and half hour taxi ride to Bangalore to see the Guruji at some event he was being "awarded something" at. The ride was fun and well equipped with delectable and moderately healthy snacks from Bombay Tiffany's, our current sweet shop of choice, and the view was peaceful and packed with eye candy. We stopped at a temple or two (one that was filled with tombs of Indian royalty!), and guzzled coconuts in the warm sun. Bangalore was as messy as I remember it, but the event seemed quite sterile and reminded me a bit of a PTA meeting; florescent lighting, dusty auditorium and muted microphone buzzing. After sitting down, however, it became clear that our beloved teacher was in fact the star of the show as speakers lined up to sing his praises. Students and colleagues of his spoke in animated Kannada before draping him with flowers and shiny robes til he looked like a Christmas tree. His importance is great in India, and he is well recognized as a lifetime master and teacher to yogis far and wide. After a while, he meandered up to the podium to speak for himself, and chattered and gesticulated more wildly than I have ever seen him. After the event, we met him in the greenroom for chapatis, and when he realized we had come all the way out there to see him at his event, his face filled with a happiness and surprise, filling us all with pride, and filling my heart with joy. What had seemed like an impossibly boring event had actually turned out to be quite easy to understand, despite the lack of English, and well worth the journey...much like the very musical Kannada movies in the cinemas 'round these parts.

Last night I went to a musical concert near the university. Ruhi Rang. Look them up!!! The ensemble consisted of a two singer/harmonium players, two drummers, one man playing a bell-stick thing, and another playing an unknown harp-type thing. Amazing. Never have I heard such amazing vocal stylings, especially from the lead singer, whose arms and hair flew about him like an orangutan while he belted golden notes and songs to the heart-wrenchingly perfect drum beats. The music permeating Mysore, from temples, car radios, houses, and voices are endlessly repetitive to a Western-trained ear but always awesome. I don't know if it's possible to get sick of Indian tunes.

I have found some yarn and some knitting needles, which has made my apartment and life here begin to feel a lot like home. I have only a swatch and an idea, but already feel like some sort of light bulb has been switched on in my heart. I am realizing more and more that some things, like knitting and fashion, can travel well, and I don't have to sacrifice many of the things that I love just because I am not in my usual environment.

Traded in the bike for a scooter a few days back, as the bicycle basically fell apart on me one day. The scooter, however, is far preferable. I am enjoying learning how to "drive like an Indian," while also having the safety of speed to help thwart the pesky street boys and jerk-off jerks in my neighborhood.

I am currently learning to master poses which require my legs to be behind my head, and today I was given pincha mayurasana (forearm balance) which is a pose I have always dreamt of mastering someday. Something tells me that, here...I will! My practices in the morning and afternoon have been long and luxurious, and I am really starting to feel some mysterious new things in my head, heart, and...everything else. The wisdom of my Guruji has led me to feel that my practice has an aim or a goal now, whereas before I was just kind of floating around mostly only enjoying the benefits of an asana practice.

To continue the thread I have begun on the subject of bugs and the like, I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom the other day and discovered a few new friends that have joined the family of cockroaches in the walls. Lizards...and one of the enormous "bee" things I saw flapping madly outside my hotel room window in Bangalore that first morning in India. It's proportions are massive and it's buzzing a deep roar that bellows through the house when it flies. It is quite a peaceful being I believe, so I don't really mind it as long as it keeps to the fan and upper window areas.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Little Updates.

I have started a new journal after quickly filling the most recent one in under six weeks. Here is an excerpt from my first entry, dated today:

"Where does control end and compulsion begin? Or visa versa? Where does rest end and laziness begin? How does one live in the moment in bliss and not so much in contemplation? How does one survive without lists?"

Today the Guruji gave me a Mudra that will cure constipation and any "diseases of the anus", which is actually just sitting in lotus position and clenching and unclenching my ass for a while. Yesterday he told me that someday, when I find someone who will show me how to drink water with my nose, I should buy a drum to stand in, fill it with water, and drink water from within it every morning thereafter. But only if I find someone who will demonstrate drinking the water with his/her nose before teaching me, because if I get water down the wrong pipe, I will get cancer.

The street boys circled me with their bikes at about nine PM the other night while I was walking only a couple blocks to my house. They started to hiss pervy things at me before snatching at my breasts. So I slammed into one of them really hard, knocking him and his bike down before standing over him with my pointed finger in his face and fire in my eyes. They panicked and ran away.

I met a lady with the same problem of hyper-hydrosis (really, really sweaty hands and feet) the other day. She is from Montreal and I think we will be good friends.

There are bugs all over this computer, so I'm leaving this blog entry as is and going home to my house where my only roommates so far are sizable cockroaches

Monday, November 30, 2009

Men and Women

This morning, as I was walking to practice, I noticed a man peeing on the side of the road, pants all the way down around his ankles, his bare ass glowing in the florescent street lighting. This is a usual sight from any corner of town. I continued walking, unphased, until I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he had turned towards me and he wasn't just peeing... I walked a bit more briskly around the next corner towards the busier streets when I realized this man had begun to trot along behind me, wanker in hand, pointed at me, his long legs gaining on me. There was a minute where I panicked. The minute I realized this man was just like the man I had seen at the age of seven, sending me and my friends screaming to hide in a parent's bedroom. The minute I realized I might be in for a fight, struggling to remember some key self-defense moves I had been taught years back at the Women's Center. The minute I began to run. I ran and he ran whimpering behind me, until I flew down a busier street, thankfully filling with people to deter his advances.

The interesting thing about the above situation is that after I was out of sight of this man, I immediately forgot about him and went on working out song lyrics in my head for most of the remainder of my walk. I had subconsciously shrugged the situation off my shoulders like I brush the ants off the food in my little pantry. It wasn't until I mentioned the happening to a friend after practice that I understood how frazzled or reactive I would have been in the States had something of this sort had happened to me. This man, though disturbing as his behavior may have been, was nothing but a mosquito. Since arriving in Mysore, I have been groped several times by children and adults alike, been lied to in more ways than I even knew a human could be lied to, had garbage thrown at my head, and I'm sure these things are just the tip of the iceberg, seeing as how this part of India is considered very "easy".

Hindi class is going well. I'm finally starting to learn some conversation after a couple weeks of memorizing words and a new alphabet. In Hindi, there are four different "t"s and four different "d"s and two "p"s all with different positions of the tongue and very subtle changes in the pressure of each letter pronounced. Nearly every letter in the English language has a new meaning in Hindi. I struggle to read the lips of my teacher, who, when I don't understand, simple shouts the words a little harder at me and making me jump a little. Sometimes her little daughter joins in and shouts at me too. Today I learned how to say "You are a very beautiful woman," which I think will come in quite handy indeed! Lately there have been several other ladies in the classroom with me doing bead work and pottery. While it is hard to get used to the shouting, I very much enjoy the hen atmosphere and all of the art-making. I am still considering taking up some art classes, but I will be waiting until my yoga schedule lightens again. Yesterday I learned a mudra that will prevent accidental death. (Excellent. He knows what a klutz I can be.) While explaining the position I should be in, the Guruji told me to "put my heel between my anus and my testicles" which I thought was very funny but he was quite serious. I find it quite refreshing that he treats me like all of his male students. I asked him a while back if a certain pranayama practice was harmful for women, and he said "No. You do. You are strong like a man and can do." Coming from an old patriarch in the most misogynistic country I have ever been to, this comment meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Pad

I moved out of the shala and into my own apartment the other day, and after a couple of days of frantic shopping, I finally feel settled there. Joe helped me haggle with the mattress man, from whom I snagged a double mattress, four pillows, two tatami mats, some pillow covers and two day bed/floor mattresses for just about thirty dollars! The haggling game is really fun, once you get to know how to play it. It takes a lot for me not to get sucked into a guilt-trip or some sort of trick that plays on my rampant gullibility, but these days I feel I am getting better at taking everything anyone says with a grain of salt. Plenty of salt.

And I am in LOVE with my place! It is by far the most amazing apartment I have ever lived in! High ceilings and tons of light filtering through enormous medieval windows with antique periwinkle shudders that open towards the inside. I have a breakfast nook, and a lounge with the daybeds on the floor and a teeny weeny kitchen with a teeny weeny perfect shelf or cupboard for all of my teeny weeny kitchen needs. But while everything is very miniature, the apartment as a whole is lofty, airy and spacious. I also don't really have too many possessions to speak of at the moment, so it would be hard to clutter it up. I think in the future, I will try to keep my living spaces as minimal as this one. There are a lot of habits I hope to bring back from India. Minimalism, everyday yoga/pranayama/mudra practice on my own, washing my own clothes, no shoes in the house, never having road rage, eating with my hands off leaves instead of plates, etc. I wish I could bring home the weather. And the coconuts. And my new place!

The first night I slept there, Joe came over and brought jasmine flowers for my doorway and candles. We laid around in the candle light on the cushion-covered floor listening to mixes my friends from home have made me, repeating "I LOVE INDIA!" over and over. Before bed I sat on my new porch looking at the stars, slurping papaya out of its skin with a spoon, counting my blessings. I love Mysore. I love India. I love this life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chocolate Cake

There is a hazy fuzz of pollution in the Mysore air that coats every situation and person and color and horizon in layer of softness. Looking at things here, especially during certain parts of the morning and evening, is like chocolate cake for the eyes. Everything glistens with a kind of syrupy sweetness. Everywhere there are colors and textures dripping and radiating off the sky and puddles. It makes the food taste better, the hullabaloo a humming delight, and the disposition float merrily around with the dragonflies.

I feel like a sumptuous feast being slowly cultivated and prepared by the experts of nature. All of my veggies have grown, been harvested, and now I am a vegetable pot roast bubbling in the Indian sun, slowly becoming more and more delicious. All of the spices I’ve collected over the years, the hot, the bitter, the sweet, the sour, all compliment each other a little more as I instinctively round out my recipe.

I wonder…if I can make myself as balanced and as strong as I’ve ever been, plus some…will any grievances or poisons crumble from me like hardened wax? Will my oil and my water separate? How many layers of skin can I shed here, and yet how tough can I make my hide? What parts of myself will I take with me to Varanasi to die and toss in the Ganges river?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Yoga Boot Camp: Level Two

(this keyboard has shifty shift keys, so i am going to resign from capitalizing where i aught to. hope y'all don't mind.)

I have begun the second month with my Guru, and have started the learning the intermediate ashtanga series. the challenge level has definitely been risen, as has the impact of the yoga on the many layers of my being. everyday i enjoy my practice a little more and look forward to the following one a little more as well. every day i feel a little happier, stronger, and lighter in my body and mind. i have also started taking a mudra class with the guruji, which is indeed very interesting and unlike anything you might commonly find in the west. yesterday was my first day of this class, and i learned how to massage the roof of my mouth with my tongue in order to allow the "moon juice" to flow from my brain into my mouth. this will give my body diamond strength and help me to evade all disease and prolong my life. all i could do was sit and grin goofily at him as he explained this to me and told me to be happy for all of yoga's many miracles. evade all diseases and maybe death? diamond strength? sure! i'll give it a shot! today i learned a mudra to encourage my spleen to function properly and cure a nervous stomach ache. (...if anyone is interested, when i get back home i will be more than happy to teach this one! the diamond strength one i will be reserving for a worthy few...)

my hips have been aching since i started practicing here. i have gathered through hear-say and through the guruji that the hips store emotional energy that has not been released, or sins one has committed. i am going to interpret this as things i haven't yet forgiven myself for, and have been exploring that idea a bit. guilt leaves a lot of residue in the mind, so it makes a lot of sense that it would gather in my bodily tissues as well.

Saw the movie 2012 in the theatre the other day with a couple guys (and a thousand indian dudes). I thought it would be a fun way to get a little holywood in, but regretted it about a half hour in to the movie. we were stuck way in the back of the theatre where the fans barely work and the speakers are right next to your head. And that movie is terrible! i don't reccommend. if you are going to make a three hour movie (at least that is how long it felt) at least fill it with songs and dancing like the indians do! I did think of Jordan a lot, however, who originally informed me of the Mayan prophesies of the 2012 apocalypse a few years back.

on a similar note, i was overly excited to find a people* magazine in a shala nearby where i was having breakfast one morning. I gasped and shuffled excitedly through the pages...only to find that my interest in celebrity gossip has diminished to almost nil, and i abandoned it after thirty seconds of flipping. i had been complaining just that morning that i missed my us weekly's and ok! mags...I guess not!

*In my opinion, however, people mag doesn't thrill the way us weekly does.

Monday, November 16, 2009


My best buddy here in Mysore at the moment is a guy named Joe. He’s traveled the entire planet, it seems, and has seen the most amazing beaches, jungles, and cities. He has found the best food and fare for the best prices in the world. Despite all of his worldliness, he remains very English to the core, residing in London for the majority of each year, when he isn’t doing his mandatory pilgrimage to visit Mr. Iyengar in India. He has an amazing asana practice that inspires all who come to the Shala, twisting and floating his wiry body with ease into spidery, lively positions most of us only dream of ever finding ourselves in. He finishes long after everyone else does, so I usually wait around for him and wash up a bit before the two of us have breakfast at one of the many hot spots he’s found.

He and I are both in long-distance relationships, a fact which has quickly strengthened the glue in our friendship. Having a penchant for tutoring Americans in the art of using “the Queen’s English,” he has taken me and my American accent under his English wing. (I’m already quite good at it, I believe. I’ve had loads of practice.) We float around Mysore on his scooter chattering with thick tea-time British accents discussing life, yoga, Mysore, and the complexities of our love lives.

Aside from our parallel romances, the classes we share with the Guruji have made for endlessly scintillating conversation over coconuts. Joe adores Mr. Iyengar, and believes him to be perhaps the only remaining traditional Ashtanga teacher in Mysore, and the best at that. Having traveled as he has, in addition to the spry mechanisms of persuasion he possesses, it’s often hard to argue with him. While I too, have much enthusiasm and respect for my new teacher (and Joe), I do grow a tiny bit tired of all of the incessant masculine proselytizing. (One can only listen to so many males, especially white males with nearly nothing restricting their freedom, talk endlessly about bliss, enlightenment, and “correctness” in yoga.) Ashtanga is already a very male-oriented type of yoga, it seems. The combination of this and the heaps of men already stuffed into this country can make for a bit of a suffocating experience for any yogini (female yogi) in Mysore. Nevertheless, I am quite enjoying Joe and our friendship, our floating around on his scooter discussing enlightenment, our adventures and coconuts, and my fabulous faux-British accent.

The everyday yoga has been opening my body like an oyster, cracking and splitting and prying my whole being apart more quickly than I ever imagined. The other day I dropped backwards into a full-wheel pose, and then grabbed my ankles backwards! Never had I even considered this a possibility for my body! I am so thankful for this yoga boot camp, for the shouting old Indian man who is my Guru, for this crazy place and its balmy magic.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Yoga People

...At least those who come to Mysore, all seem to be similarly peaceful, intelligent, receptively kind, and funny people. Maybe it's the India talking, but nearly every traveler I have met in this town thus far have been truly pleasant, with the exception of my brief shala-mate Peter from England. Peter the depressed alcoholic with a seemingly low sanity fuse. Peter who is running away from a an ex-girlfriend like so many other men of his ripening age who travel to India. Peter who smokes mysterious things in the kitchen, wears his shoes in the house, and drunkenly steams around all day. I have arranged to move into a tiny apartment with amazing light, at an amazing price with an amazing tiny garden out front, complete with no possibility of safety-compromising room mates. It reminds me of the little houses my Aunt Kathy likes to live in, a quaint abode with balanced energy and abundant charms. I will have to furnish it myself, but since it looks like I will actually be staying in Mysore through approximately the middle of February before traveling around, the twenty dollars or so that will go into purchasing bed, stove, and sitting arrangements will be well worth it.

I have been taking a little time away from studying for a day or two, and have opted to cut my language classes down to only a few days a week, due to my brain having felt like a sopping sponge, heavy with theory and the goo that starts to coat your brain after having been here, in the boot-camp equivalent of yoga, for a bit. I've noticed that my need to "chill out" has grown exponentially, or perhaps I'm just feeling more indulgent than I have in a while. I don't feel lazy, but I do feel the need to keep things very simple. And poetic! All I have been dying to read since getting to Mysore has been pungent with reality, but I have switched recently to craving wordy novels and tea like I once craved Archie Comics and chocolate chips.

I have had to adjust my diet to fit India. In Seattle I consumed coffee with soy milk, tuna salads and gargantuan green salads, Kombucha and good wine. Here I drink tulsi tea, coconut milk, and an abundance of foods from the whole-milk-from-cows food group (a reasonably ethical staple here). I eat loads of fresh papaya, chickoo and pomegranate. I eat coconut chutney and curry with everything: idlis, set dosas, thali meals, lemon rice, and vadas. I have porridge with ghee and jaggery for breakfast most days. The shift has been somewhat dramatic, causing all sorts of rearranging and stagnation in my body, both emotionally and physically. The teeny mirror in the shala isn't large enough to tell if I look as different as I feel. This lack of winter downtime has been somewhat of a scrambler as well. I am skipping a season entirely, it seems, and am therefor throwing my inner clock for a loop. It is like forgetting to sleep, or missing a period, or going up or down too fast in an elevator. Those rides at the carnival were thrilling, but nothing compares to riding out culture shock.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Winter In Mysore

Inspired by the discussions I've been having with fellow Iyengar student, Joe, about meditation, I sat in my room the other night for about an hour. Eyes closed, I conjured up images that felt "divine" (a mode of advice given to me by the Guruji). The first thing that came to mind was my horse, Cosby. So I meditated on Cosby for a while. It's easy to meditate on him. He is pretty perfectly divine. I used to go out to the barn when upset about things in my adolescent youth and sit in his stall. His huge head would swing around the stall from his food to me, to his food, to me...I remember thinking he reminded me of a brontosaurus with his long head swinging like that. He would put his big muzzle to my hair and blow his breath all over me and then eat some more food. He reminded me of everything that was peaceful as my hair filled with hay and and the smell of him, his eyes twinkling at me. Thinking about ideas such as God or a Divine Mother, or Jesus, or Buddha, or whatever has brought me to consider what things have made me feel...connected, in my life. Cosby has this affect on me...a lot of animals do. India itself is enough, also. A few people I have known or loved, like my little brother, make it easy to feel like there is definitely a "super-soul" shining brightly through the eyes or leaves or tears or roots or colors of beings and things. It is nice to notice these things, and to think about them more often than I ever have.

After sitting and meditating on Cosby for a while, I laid on my bed and watched a candle burn for a long while until I felt sleepy. It was so lovely to just lay and do absolutely nothing but let this candle flicker gently in my peripheral vision, feeling the warmth and calm and peace I had just cultivated set in. I slept like a baby that night, and awoke to the sound of a powerful rainstorm engulfing the shala and all of Mysore. It reminded me of Seattle, and what is probably a cozy winter setting in there. I thought of pumpkins and stew and cider and scarves and Madison Market.

Today it is a balmy overcast. About seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Last night I spent the evening on mats in a garden eating heaps of amazing organic Indian food with a bunch of fellow yogis I have met here. I am starting to feel like I am a stable and known part of the community, my ukulele ever-present, of course. People come to Mysore once and come back again and again and again...I can see why. I could get used to this.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Yoga Is Harder Than I Thought

"One, two, three years is sufficient for Asanas, and then one must keep eating cakes in order to get realization!"

The Guruji concluded with this statement today after a long discussion of the Asana limb of Ashtanga yoga. By cakes, he means one must continue on the eight-fold path of yoga to finally satiate one's "hunger" for realization of the true self. And he doesn't mean "stop" after those few years, having later explained that one should keep up the physical practice until death. There are eight limbs, or steps, to divine realization, and before discussing Asana, the third limb, he discussed the first two limbs, Yama and Niyama, the moral framework for the yogi, the couple of days prior. Truthfulness, cleanliness (of all kinds), non-stealing, non-harming, happiness, and resolving to a belief in God are a few of them. One of them is Brahmacharya, the practice of controlling one's sex drive. This lit a million little spark plugs in my brain, sending me into a whirlwind of questions both for him and for myself all throughout the day. How is it that yoga has brought me face to face with one of the key factors I have always rejected in organized religion?! I don't know if was is all of the mental, intellectual and egotistical effort or the Indian food (probably both), but I ended up with some sort of an upset digestive system all throughout that night.

"Just because you have money doesn't mean you should be drinking coffee and buying things...Just because you are a youth, doesn't mean you should do EVERYTHING!" was another Guruji-ism that struck me like a gong this afternoon. What a pleasant thought. And a simple thought. I have been contentedly reading in my room all afternoon, whereas usually I am planning out my hours all day so as to pack them with all kinds of "opportunities". So what if I'm in India? I can sit in my room and read all night if I damn well please!

On another note, I have been taking some Hindi lessons from a lovely pair of ladies (Sumana and Lakshmi) who also teach art classes. The lessons are a lot of fun. I love how the language is written especially and sometimes Sumana's little daughter sits next to me and corrects my work. They do a lot of needlework while I am studying, which leaves me drooling for fibrous arts of my own, and I am thinking that after some of my studies with the Guruji let up a bit in a week or two, I will take up some sari-embroidering.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mosquitoes: The Story of My Life

Ever since coming here, I have been grappling for ways to overcome the mosquitoes; to somehow keep them from constantly swarming, drinking my blood, and driving me crazy without having to hide under my net all of the time. I have tried mosquito repellent, citronella spray, plug-in things that fill the air with poison, water lily oil, etc. All have been enough to keep the mosquitoes a tiny bit at bay but they also give me headaches. I started to realize, however, that whenever I ignored the mosquitoes, they seemed to ignore me, too. I started just saying “hi” to them all instead of trying to squash them in an angry tizzy. And miraculously, my mosquito bites have dramatically diminished, and I am dramatically calmer…and less smelly since I only occasionally feel the need to use an oil or spray.

I have realized these mosquitoes are a metaphor for a lot in my life. Missing people, heartbreak, stress, worries, changes, aches and pains, etc, are all much easier to get along with if I simply stop trying to make them “go away.” They don’t go away. If I start to think that they have or will, they get worse and I end up in a heap of tears and pulling muscles. Noticing things without judging them or trying to change them in any way is concept taught in yogic philosophy. It is a habit to be cultivated slowly, but very effective…at least for me.

Also, I recently read in one of my yoga books that food is for thought, liquids are for energy, and fats are for the power of speech. Sit on that idea for a minute. Usually I try to keep fats at a minimum, but have noticed that I have a lot to write about in my journal after eating something fried or oily. I have a lot more to say to myself than usual…India seems to be squeezing every little ache and pain in my heart out of me one large and meaningful drop at a time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coconuts and Music and Magic....

A couple of nights have passed by my lonesome in the shala, and at times I feel crazy because there is nothing to do but be with my own thoughts or studies, or go out into the exhausting commotion. It is interesting to have the time to observe my thoughts and feelings, and the amount of control I have over my own energy. The Guruji has been teaching me about the difference between the mind and intellect. He describes the mind as a “chain” of thoughts based on things already realized in the past, and the intellect as a single thought in the present which is greater in capacity than the confines of the mind…as soon as I start to feel like I am beginning to understand him, he tells me he will continue explaining tomorrow. He fills my head with colors and ideas and then falls into a mumbling chain of prayer indicating that he is finished for the day.

The shala is a lovely place to spend the evenings, laying on my back playing the uke watching the giant fruit bats soar over head, letting the balmy breeze blow my thoughts into the oblivion. But it is even more fun to play music for and AUDIENCE! I have made friends with the remaining asana students at the shala (there are four of us total each morning) and they have opened my eyes to a brand new Mysore filled with parties and fresh coconut water and lakes and faces and conversation. I was asked to play the Uke last night at a gathering and I ended up with quite the captive audience for the mere five songs I know how to play. They were so lovely to play for, and I felt exhilarated by my own bravery. I let my shyness shine, so to speak, allowing it to be present, but not overpowering. One of the people at the party even asked me to play at his breakfast restaurant in return for free breakfast and chai! My first gig! Hooray!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ups and Downs

It's a new chapter, it seems. I am alone at the Shala, and I have the Guruji all to myself for philosophy and pranayama training. The other students left one by one...each with tears in their eyes. It's not often you find a guru. And a true guru, he is. Each day I feel the power of his magic more and more, especially now that he is teaching me practically the entirety of yogic history...complete with amazing little stories and examples to go along with his teachings. It is hard to imagine leaving him, already, even though I have only been with him for a couple of weeks.

I have been studying for hours each day in my new room, which I love. I have decided to focus my study on three things: Yoga and philosophy (primarily), Kannada (the official language of Mysore), and music. It is nice to have the time to focus, read, think, nap, etc. And I have a bicycle now! It is a piece of junk, for sure...but MINE for the next three months! I love, love, love, having a bike again.

Yesterday I had a coffee date with Pradeep, the nice boy I met on the train to Mysore. He took me to the Desara Exhibition, which is a huge carnival complete with really scary rides. He was so much fun to hang out with all evening! Teaching me words in Kannada, telling me about school in Mysore and what it's like to be a youth in India, and making me go on the SCARIEST rides I have ever been on. The kind that swing you around and around and upside down and then stop at the top so you are hanging upside down mid-air and screaming bloody murder. All I could think before getting on these rides was..."This is India...the ATMs barely work...what makes me think this is a good idea?" But I am still alive, thank God, and I kept my popcorn down, and it was admittedly super fun.

After much consistent effort over the last couple weeks having to deal with computers crashing and power outages every five minutes, I have finally posted a couple photos on my facebook page. Check them out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I have adopted an Indian Child...Just Kidding!

I have tracked down a bicycle for my next few months in Mysore, which is a huge relief. It is such a pain to have to rely on feet or motors to get oneself around once one has been converted to the intense joy of having a bike. It is a rickety old thing found on the side of the house of Ragu, whose delicious organic food I have enjoyed for most mornings past and whose children reside in...Bellevue! He is a very charming man who seems to enjoy going out of his way to please me. I think it has a little to do with my hometown.

I am moving into the shala tonight, finally. I was sad to say goodbye to my little hotel boys. I played a song for them in my room before leaving, and gave them each a good chunk of change for their poor little pockets. I will have a kitchen and a much more comfortable bed, and screens on my windows, and the yoga studio is right outside my bedroom so I will no longer be trotting around the streets at five thirty in the morning. The downside is everyone else is leaving, so I will be alone in the shala until in fills up again. Apparently this is the beginning of the busier season for Westerners practicing yoga,'s hoping I get some fabulous new roommates, soon!

Guillaume and I were invited to the school where a man we met at a tea stall, named Praesod, teaches elementary students. It was a gorgeous ride through the greenest countryside I have ever seen to a tiny little dirt road leading to the tiniest little school I've ever seen. More amazing children all glowing and staring. Each of the girls brought me flowers and pinned them to my head until I looked like a Thanksgiving centerpiece. More food and more tea and more photos. The children of Karnataka are taught based on a "joyful learning" program which allows them to pretty much do whatever they want. The teachers of the school just smile and watch patiently as all of the students bypassed their studies to ogle at my camera, ask us questions, and follow us around. India has a way of just letting things happen without regulation, and everyone seems much happier doing so. The students are all very smart and obedient, but not fearful of punishment or regulation.

Last night I wandered into another temple. This one more of a theme park with waterfalls and rice to offer the deities and lots of lights and loud music. I sat and absorbed the energy of the people turning circles, dotting their foreheads, pinning flowers everywhere and enjoying their families and common faith. I am starting to get a better grasp of the Hindu deities and faith, and am very much appreciating this religion. I left feeling intensely peaceful. So much so that the little boys grabbing at my boobs on the way out didn't phase me at all. I went to bed with a garland of jasmine pinned to my mosquito net and fell asleep smiling.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

India is delicious

I have rented a scooter for the week. Savanna would be so proud of me. I can drive like the best of them, swerving and honking aggressively as I zip from place to place. The trick is to not think about rules, but rather space. Instead of waiting for someone to pass before merging, you just honk and speed and go the wrong way down the road, etc. I know, this sounds very dangerous, but actually, I think it works much better than the fascist, cop-fearing traffic laws of the West. Everyone gets along swimmingly in the hullabaloo, here.

Guillaume and I were on the scooter looking for a concert that didn't actually exist when we stumbled upon the opening of a new Hindu temple. We stopped to have a look and got swept up in a wave of small children yelling and laughing and tugging at our clothes. They pushed us up the temple, which was still covered in scaffolding (which is just a bunch of regular sticks tied together with rope) and we got to see the top! I have never felt so overjoyed by children in my entire life. Every single child was dying to have their picture taken with my camera, and after posing in a writhing, screaming, pile, a zillion hands are in my face and all over me grappling for a look at the photo. Over and over I took pictures, and Guillaume beat-boxed over and over again at the multiple requests of our tiny friends. He is very famous here. Everyone makes fun of him saying "I am William! I am French!" in a funny accent which leaves everyone in fits of giggles. He is so happy to be in India, where people say hello back to him, as opposed to France, which he describes as very cold. I can kind of relate, I think.

After climbing all over the new temple, the breeze of children carries us into the temple, where we drink holy water ( this safe?) and get our foreheads dotted with different colors by several tiny fingers. We sat for a second inside the temple in an attempt to calm them down. They all sat down next to us and giggled. I got up and they all got up, which made me laugh, so I sat back down, and they all sat down! And up and funny. Then the elders gave us an enormous portion of curd rice piled in some leaves for us to eat with our children-and-temple-and-who-knows-what-else-covered hands. We tried to explain that we had just eaten, but the pressure was on. "This is the food of God! It is a very small portion! You must eat it!" So we ate a bunch and finally made it out of there with huge smiles on our faces, a hundred amazing photos, and belly aches.

Today I did my first-ever drop back (where you bend over backwards and land on your hands in a back bend) with the Guruji. I felt so incredibly proud of this, as it is something I have only been dreaming of being brave or strong enough to do for a long time. I also felt more connected to my Guruji at that moment than ever. I started to feel the intensity of his power. The intensity of his history. Why he is a Guru. Why he is MY Guru. I had a dream about Grandma Janet last night. We were all at a table celebrating the arrival of little Christopher. I feel like the Guruji is reminding me of her in my subconcious. I am reminded of the importance of my elders in general, and my family. My beautiful, beautiful family.

I have been doing a little shopping (so much for my goal of not shopping) for people back home...thinking I would be able to send home a holiday package. But I don't know if I am going to worry so much about that, because the gift options are so overwhelming and the time it would take to send home a package in time. I hope you all will understand if I save my gifts for when I return. I love you all so much!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Pranayama: Systematic breathing and holding of the breath. The lengthening of life via control of prana (life force). This practice is already changing my entire life. Every day I learn a new pranayama exercise from the Guruji. I sit for about an hour and count and breathe and hold my breath and count and breathe…and by the end of the practice I am a ball of sweat and exhausted and hungry. Every morning I am awakening with an entirely new set of lungs.

As an occasional smoker of weed and other things, I could easily do an asana practice regularly and not feel affected. Pranayama, however, does not allow for this kind of habit. The first day I did the practice, I felt ill. I have had a little head cold ever since, which I think is directly related to the practice cleaning me out. Gutting my lungs of the filth I have accumulated in there and filling them with power. I have been sneezing and coughing and have been forced to go to bed early (even more early than usual) as a result of my stupid “cold”. Today, however, I am feeling better than ever. I don’t think I have ever felt this strong. My body has never felt more open, or more able, and my mind feels the same. It is amazing what not drinking and not smoking for any extended period of time, even if one has only done these things occasionally, will do for the body and subsequently, the mind. Imagine what three months of this practice will do for me! Hazzaaaah!

Every day in Seattle I felt a tightness in my chest. Social interactions, work, and pretty much anything was enough to set off the tightening in my chest. Constant anxiety. My feet hurt, right where my solar plexus is located according to reflexology. My power, my sense of will, the center of my divine self, was constantly being compromised somehow. But the second I left, the minute I arrived in India, these aches and pains completely disappeared. Completely. My feet are so happy. My chest is wide and my eyes are bright. And it has only been two weeks. My singing voice, which had grown weak in Seattle, is pouring out of me like liquid gold. I sit on the rooftops in the evening and sing the colors of the sun right back to it. I sing my gratitude back to the sky.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Practice, Practice, Practice...

Oh, how I miss my wardrobe! I dream of denim and heels and clothes I want to make and awaken in the middle of the night panicking inside. Yesterday I went along with Guillaume while he did his final shopping before heading home next week, and he took me to this AMAZING place called FabIndia. Beautifully made clothes that drive me crazy with desire…and still so cheap! I didn’t buy anything, but I spent all night daydreaming about clothes. So much that I had trouble sleeping. And then I dreamt of clothes.

I have decided that for the next couple of months, I am going to try and abstain from my western materialist tendencies an only buy what I need: food/shelter/water, little necessities, classes, and experiences. Then at the end of my stay here in Mysore I will know exactly what I REALLY want because I will have had a couple of months to let my wants sort themselves out. Every time I want to buy something for myself or someone at home, I write it down in my little book. Then I forget about it. This is my process. Trying to be content with what I have.

My daily routine is looking like this: Six am to seven am, I do the Ashtanga primary series. Then breakfast, followed by adventuring, reading, or doing my laundry in my bathroom. Lunch at noon, followed by reading or napping and then Pranayama practice at four pm. Then I like to play music on a rooftop before dinner. Every couple of days, I fill a bucket with water, use it to bathe and then use the rest of the water to do my laundry. I love doing my laundry by hand. I love knowing how much water I need to clean my self and my clothes. I love that I need so little!

Last night my Rickshaw driver friend stopped by to say that he had been trying to get a hold of me but had the wrong number, and had left messages with the hotel reception that he guessed never got delivered. He said he lives right next to my yoga shala and wants me to meet his family! I was very surprised, but I still do not trust him completely. I am planning to confront him about whether or not he expects any more money from me, which is apparently usually the case with rickshaw driver “friends”. The rickshaw drivers, and shop owners, and hotel owners are all in cahoots with each other to sap westerners of their dough under the guise of “friendship”. But something in his eyes last night told me perhaps he felt otherwise.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Guruji

BNS Iyengar. My new teacher. Tiny Indian man of eighty four years and about sixty inches of height. I began my pranayama and asana classes with him, finally. This will be an entirely new world of yoga. The opening of the mind. Asanas can be learned anywhere, he says, but the mind and soul take years and years of practice to open and strengthen. "If you want to eat beans," he says, "you only have to wait a few months...but if you want to eat mango, you must wait several years!" I want to eat mango!

I will learn much from this man. About discipline, about life, about God, about myself. The few students studying with him have all been to India several times to practice with him. They come back as often as they can to learn more. One of his students, a man named Dick from New Zealand, who just turned sixty, has been practicing with the Guruji for over twenty years and is still at what he calls "the lowest rungs on the yoga ladder". I can only hope to gain a sliver of the immensity of his wisdom during the short time I am here.

Last night was the final day of Diwali, and I am glad it is over. The smoke and the noise and the heat started to get to me, and I felt like I was getting a head cold last night. So instead of setting off fireworks, I passed out really early. Slept like a baby through the gunfire and bombing just outside my window. I am slowly learning to desensitize myself to the constant sensory overload, I think. A good skill to have!

I have discovered the rooftop of my hotel, which is perfect for playing ukulele and watching the sunset (or fireworks), and the lives of the Indians living around me. They have such simple, beautiful lives. It is amazing how little one needs to be comfortable or happy. Things like refrigerators, toilet paper, shoes, etc. are not necessities to them, and I am learning they are actually not for me either! The no toilet paper thing was odd at first, but I have found their water-spigot method to be quite chaffing and no waste! (Sorry if this is too much information for y'all...)

I am missing my friends and family a lot, however. I am sending love to everyone all the time, thinking of everyone constantly, and looking forward to seeing everyone when I return. I hope you all are safe and happy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Diwali!

My belly full of papaya and masala chai, I sit here at the Mysore Mandala, local hot spot for traveling yogis in search of a fresh salad or squeezed juice. I have been eating so well since I've been in India! If for no other reason, the food is by far worth the trek to this magical land of marigolds. The trick is to try things not recognized on the menu and being constantly surprised.

It is Diwali today. The actual day, which I was unsure of for a while. Many businesses are closed after one o clock, after which the whole city turns into a mind-spinning war zone of fireworks. Of course there are no regulations on what kinds of fireworks can be set off, or where, so one must be careful not to turn the corner of a building and land in the middle of an enormous colorful explosion. My rickshaw driver friend, who had invited me to his home, turned out to be a liar. There was no celebrating with him or meeting his family, or wearing my amazing sari for a special occasion. This disappointed me more than I thought initially. I really liked him. Sure, I paid him to help me out, but I liked him just the same. And I don't want to only be friends with Western people! I suppose everything happens in due time, but it is hard not to feel cheated or disheartened. Guilliame said he was not my friend because he was lying to me from the start, but things work differently here... It is not like I don't have friends who like to trick me for fun or play on my gullibility, and I have had long term relationships with pathological liars on more than one occasion... But such is life. Money, culture, and my white skin separate me from the locals. It will take more work and psychological grappling to make Indian friends. For now I can appreciate how they smile with their hearts and speak with their eyes, and respect their intense connection to each other and the lives that they live. And people come and go. In the end it is the relationship I have with myself that matters most.

Guillaume and I spent the evening together on the rooftop of the yoga shala, improvising with each other on my ukulele, watching the colors fill the sky over the palaces in the horizon. I have been playing music for everyone these days! Which is very liberating, considering how shy I have always been about playing for an audience. He is hilarious to play music with. Imagine a very cocky and suave French man with a syrupy-thick accent singing improvised Reggae (his favorite kind of music), and me singing jazzy skat over the top of his lyrics. We finished the evening with some wandering and ice cream over mixed fruit. Yet another magical night in India. I don't think I have slept as well as I did last night in a long time. And this is the first morning I awoke without any mosquito bites...!!!

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Friend

Today I discovered where all of the Western yoga students have been hiding. And where all of the fresh (as in not cooked) meals are served. I have had way too many Dosas and Idlis already…

I made friends with a guy who is staying in the yoga shala where I will be living next week. His name is Guilluame, and he is a French model/actor/dancer/yoga teacher/ scorpio firecracker. He showed me all of the yoga student hot spots in the area, and has rented a scooter like the one I had in the states. He is going to let me rent it from him when I need it, and I will possibly be taking it off his hands when he leaves in two weeks. He and I played ukulele together and then rode the scooter to a five star hotel in the area to go swimming with one of the other yoga students. He also gave me an in-depth tour of the shala (which is basically an ashram, now). It is so peaceful and simple and beautiful. I can’t wait to move in.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Indian Fashion, Yoga, and Crazy Dreams

The other day I picked up an Indian Marie Claire to look at while having tea. The Indian fashion industry is completely completely inspiring! I have decided to take David's advice and buy heaps of silk to send home, and possible convince one of the many tailors here to give me some sewing tips. It is typical here to simply pick out fabric and have them make it for you that same day, and the sewing is impeccable! The salwar kameez I am wearing so insanely beautiful I am afraid to wear it out, but feel more comfortable in it than in my western wear. People stare at me a little bit less...I think.

I have been sleeping a lot. I get so tired from the heat and the intensity that I have been passing out super early and having all sorts of dreams that I remember vividly. I usually don't remember my dreams, but I can remember at least four dreams from last night. I dreamt of old lovers and heartbreak, of cartoons I was making up (I awoke laughing), that all of my childhood friends were plotting to kill me...I even dreamt that my yoga teacher Troy was scolding me for irritating the guruji. I feel like butter turning to ghee. I awake with all of my gunk having risen to the surface, and then I go do my practice and sweat it all off. My savasana this morning was the deepest I'd ever felt. I fell into this scary powerful place in my heart and let it consume me. I came out of it realizing everyone else had finished and left the room a while before me.

I am in a different hotel now, and will be in it for about a week, until my room opens up at the place where all of the other students of Iyengar are staying. Kanchen, the woman who runs the homestay situations, is very beautiful and kind and also teaches yoga...but to little kids! I am excited to get to know her better.

From Yesterday But the Computer Froze

Yesterday I said I didn’t trust a soul here. I would like to amend that comment. I don’t trust what people say, but I trust them to be good people. I have started lying right back to them, and though it feels weird, it also feels right. Stealing and lying are completely different things here. I still don’t understand completely, but I have a better idea now.

Mysore seems much cleaner and sleepier than Bangalore, and there much fewer people begging, which means I can sit down somewhere in public and not get accosted immediately. Maybe some cell phone pictures taken of me and certainly some staring, (why doesn’t anyone in the states know how much of a celebrity I am like they do here?) but nothing so intense to send me back to my hotel room to cower.

And the food! Ah the food and chai! Raevi, my rickshaw driver friend, who has now chauffeured me around at no specified cost for two days now (though I have made a point to give him money) has taken me to several amazing restaurants and has shown me the proper way to eat things. This morning (after waking up at the crack of dawn to take me to and from my yoga class) he took me in his amazing old circa 1950’s vehicle to a couple of temples and a couple Mysore lookout points to take pictures. We have plans to celebrate Diwali with his family on Saturday and we will go to the horse racing derby on Sunday. I think he will be a good friend while I am here.

I have taken two yoga classes so far. One at the Mysore Mandala, which was my initial choice for study, but I have decided instead to study under BNS of the other yoga legends residing in Mysore. The Guruji is not in town until Friday, but after having practiced with a few of his students this morning in his rickety old Indian yoga shala, I have a VERY good feeling and have committed to practicing with him despite his absence. Go, instincts, go!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day...Only Day FOUR?!

The past couple of days have been a complete whirlwind. Where do I start? I feel swallowed whole by this country...swimming around in its digestive juices...

I have only been here four days. And I'm already planning to extend my trip! Ha! Take that India!

The day before yesterday I visited the "Bull Temple" in Bangalore, which was a huge bull statue covered in Jasmine flowers housed in a crazy-beautiful temple. The priest traded a few jasmine flowers for a few rupees and then I sat in the surrounding gardens watching the monkeys and bats in the trees. My whole body was covered in ants at one point and I felt like I had come a long way from my days of having panic attacks over insects and the like.

Yesterday I made my way to the train station from the hotel, and after a confusing bit of bumbling around with my backpack, figured out how to buy a train ticket. For a little over a dollar, I would be heading to Mysore in about four hours from then. I reluctantly handed my backpack to the coatroom man, and swished through the piles of people lying all over the train station floor to the bustling city streets of Bangalore once again. After about fifteen minutes, I felt as if I had smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes from all of the pollution, so stepped inside a tea house for a second...and there I met my first friend. His name is Selvan, he is Indian born, but I could tell right away he was a foreigner because he was eating with both of his hands. We got to chatting and I realized he was the Indian (residing in Belgium for most of his life) doppleganger of my good friend Ezra (I have photos!). He and I were both incredibly excited to have someone who wasn't Indian to talk to so he spent the next four hours at my side, both of us buzzing and laughing noisily, taking almost no notice of the surrounding insanity for a while. He waited for my train with me, and it was there that we met Pradeep, my next friend! Pradeep is studying mechanical engineering in Mysore, and likes movies such as Terminator and The Fast and the Furious. He wouldn't let me lift my bag, pay for my chai or any of the other tasty snacks I couldn't resist. "It's India, Man!" he told me, taking the food wrappers I was trying to tuck into my purse and throwing them out the train window into the filth.

The view from the train made me want to weep so was so beautiful and so devastating. Children playing in garbage, a couple of giraffes nibbling at a tree (who needs the Zoo when the whole Zoo is in your backyard?), rivers filled to the brim with grime surrounded by the most beautiful landscape you can possibly imagine. I don't think you can imagine India. It must be witnessed.

Pradeep helped me bypass all of the approaching rickshaw drivers, leading me to one he trusted who then helped me find my (~$5) hotel room, which smells of cigarettes and has pillows made of concrete but has proven quite comfortable and safe. Then it started raining golf balls and I sat inside my room watching Indian television letting the sound of the storm lull me to sleep.

In the morning the hotel manager had arranged for a rickshaw driver to "show me the markets," and I accepted the arrangement, having been inspired by Selvan the day before when he told me he had spent the entire day with a rickshaw driver and had felt more in touch with Indian culture that he ever had on his own...which was so true! After my driver and I had breakfast together, he took me to several yoga shalas, to get an ayurvedic massage (two adorable Indian women rubbing insane amounts of oil all over my body and then sticking me in a steam box), and to buy things. I ended up spending way too much money today, and had a freak out about it a minute ago til I realized I was freaking out while eating a gigantic meal which would cost about a dollar. I ended up with two new friends (the sandalwood oil man, who will be showing me the Mysore Palace on another day, perhaps), my rickshaw driver (who has invited me to his house for Diwali), some amazing oils, and two traditional Indian outfits which will be finished tomorrow morning.

I don't trust a soul here, but everyone is completely wonderful, which is a ridiculous concept for my brain to wrap itself around.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day Two

This morning I decided to skip the rickshaw and walk to the city center (which I later gave up on having gotten lost in no time at all) and I saw three cows and two stray dogs eating out of a pile of garbage. Sure enough, there was a cow eating a plastic bag... That was one of the few pictures I have taken so far. I haven't felt so much like taking pictures yet since everyone is already staring at me from every direction.

I bought a veggie peeler and some biscuits at the grocery store when I got into town. The veggie peeler is for the mango I bought yesterday that I'm not sure I should bite into or not without being worried. The biscuits are to hand out to all of the women with babies nipping gently at my heels as I wander around, the little boys with deformities making hand-to-mouth gestures, and the myriad other beautiful people in need of...anything.

It was getting dark as I ate dinner yesterday off M.G. road in downtown Bangalore, so I thought it wise to head home. I had written down the address to the hotel, but soon learned that pretty much NO ONE knew where I was talking about, no matter how many people I asked or how seemingly close the hotel was. I ended up in the City Market area, where Bangalore had been hiding all of its crazy. It's Diwali right now, and I'm not sure if that's why there were so many scrambling people all over the market, or if it's always like that at night. From there I tried to find the hotel on foot, but was obviously in the wrong area. I ended up surrounded by a gang of young (and surprisingly handsome) rickshaw drivers, all obviously lying to my face when I asked them if they knew where the hotel was and charging me huge amounts of money to help me find my hotel. I tried to haggle their prices down, but since no one knew where it was, I eventually just got into a rickshaw and let one of them give it a go. It was late and super, super overwhelming at that moment. Everywhere people yelling and hissing and staring and traffic a constant flow of noise and chaos. At one point my driver hit a motorcyclist. They both stopped and nodded politely to each other and continued on their way. At an intersection I looked to my right and saw a family of three on a motorbike, two parents with helmets, and one tiny child with no helmet. I waved and smiled at the child, who waved back and then they all sped noisily away. My driver stopped to ask three people along the way before finally finding the hotel. I was happy to pay him whatever at that point, and he and I introduced ourselves and had a moment to giggle at the scenario, afterwhich I darted inside to play ukulele for about half an hour and then passing out by 9 PM.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day One

The traffic here is hilarious. All I could do was giggle to myself as my auto-rickshaw (which is basically a motor-bike with a box around it) pummels through a crowded intersection, my driver honking his way through the congestion. The divider lines on the streets mean nothing to anyone. But it feels like a very safe, copacetic system, nevertheless. My driver from the hotel asked me something and I stupidly nodded yes, not knowing what he had said, and he took me to a shop owned by his family. I quickly realized that the only way I was going to get where I wanted to go was to repeat myself about a hundred times until he gave up and we continued on our way. "No, next time, thank you! No, can we go to Church st. now? I would like to go to Church st. thank you! No, thank you, next time!..." etc.

I awoke this morning around ten, remembering only that my dreams were colorful, smelly, and very intense. Did some yoga and meditating and looking out the window...gathering the courage to go outside. As I was gazing out over the vastly strange landscape, a "bee" (or something like it) the size of a mouse batted its body into the window I was looking through. I could hear its wings beating through the super thick window pane.

I could barely sleep on the planes here, and instead read my journal from front to back, having epiphanous moments of bliss, sadness, and realization. I let myself laugh and cry at the things I had written as people slept all around me. It wasn't until the plane touched down in Bangalore that I finally felt nervous. But only for a second.

My plan for now is to:
a. Not be shy.
b. Drink a Lassie
c. Find some Indian clothing, perhaps (the fashionista in me lives on!)

I will probably stay in Bangalore one or two more nights before moving on to Mysore, or somewhere nearby. A man at the hotel restaurant told me that there is a "very large forest with elephants and lions" near Mysore, which I will strongly consider visiting...although for the life of me I could not understand him when he repeated the name of the forest to me ten times over.

I already miss everyone, but I don't think I have ever been more excited to be on my own in my whole life.