the official transporation of this blog

At the end of some television shows there is an announcement that the “official transportation for the X show is……”   I decided that the official transportation of this blog is the always lovely AUTORICKSHAW…

Less than five months from today I will be back home in Ma India., first in Chennai, then Kolkata, then Bhubaneswar, then Delhi, then Haridwar, and back to Delhi.   One of the things I love about Chennai is the traffic (believe it or not!) because I’ve realized that it operates on Chaos Theory.   It took me about two days during my first trip to figure out how the chicken crosses an Indian road — basically you walk into it, because if you hesitate, you’ll really screw things up.  Or you sneak into a crowd of people on a street corner and walk with them in relative safety in one fast moving blob of humanity, the idea being that if you’re surrounded by people, chances are someone else will get hit by a bus.  If you are a really lucky, the bus will stop, but hopefully not on top of you.

The above video was shot in Hyderabad, but it’s close enough to show you what Chennai’s traffic is like.  Actually it has less traffic than on a typical Chennai street.  Watch it and you’ll see lots of autorickshaws, the Official Transporation of this Blog!

I’ve been in one minor accident while in a rickshaw, have run out of petrol once,  and have only seen a few roll overs, so don’t worry — we’ll get you where you want to go…eventually.  Just sit back and relax!


view from an autorickshaw, Chennai, 2005

my last day in Chennai (2005)

flower sellersSeptember 2005

My last day in India was the best day I experienced in Chennai.

On my last night in India I met one of the yoga students at the Eco Cafe for our goodbyes and she told me that I was probably the only one who was not in the group picture.  She also said that a tea was given for the students at the end of the day.  But frankly, a group picture, a tea, and teary goodbyes to people I only knew for a month and probably will never see again mean nothing to me compared to what I experienced that last afternoon.

The Banyan is a women’s organization that is about an hour from where I stayed in Mylapore.  I wanted to donate money and also the clothes and toiletries that I would not be bringing back with me.  Suresh got lost a few times but we finally found it.   I thought it amusing that he never asked women for directions, he only asked men for directions to the women’s shelter.

Visiting Banyan was an overwhelming experience for me because I teach yoga in a shelter similar to this one.   There are approximately 300 women there and not just from Chennai.

I almost started crying when I walked through the gates — two dogs came running, barking loudly, protecting their home.  One dog had a bad rear leg so he ran on three legs.  The other dog must have broken her pelvis because she dragged her back end, pulling herself along with her front legs.  But she was still fierce and tried to protect her home, her paralysis did not stop her.  I watched her as she dragged herself all over, she had old crusty sores on her back legs from dragging herself.  But when she laid down exhausted she looked up at me, wagged her tail, and seemed to smile.

I was greeted by a young Finnish woman.  She told me that she came to volunteer after the tsunami in 2004 and stayed on in Chennai, learning Tamil.  I asked her about the dogs and she said “oh, we adopt them too…”  It did my heart good when she told me that they also have yoga classes for the women.

I was given a tour and I talked with tsunami survivors, to an ex-movie actress who was rescued from the streets, to a woman from Mumbai who has the same curly hair as I do — she hugged me because we had something so mundane in common, our hair.  She did not speak English, but she came up to me smiling, pointing to her hair, and then touching mine.

I lost it — I started crying because I thought about the women in the shelter back home where I teach yoga.  The woman who was the ex-actress came up to me and told me in perfect English, “don’t cry, madam, we love it here, we are happy here.”  They have nothing and yet they have everything.

I left and Suresh took me to the warehouse district where we walked through huge warehouses filled with fruit and veggies and flowers.  I was the only Westerner and Suresh made sure no one crowded me too much.  I took my most favorite photos of India at these warehouses.  I was mobbed everywhere I went, people wanting me to take their pictures, then crowding around me to see their face on my camera.  Surrounded by 20 men at one time and never hassled once .  They yelled their thanks to me and kissed their hands and touched my cheeks, some bowed and made anjali mudra to the OM tattoo on my wrist.  One old man saw the OM tattoo on my wrist, kissed his fingers, then touched the tattoo.  He put his hands to his heart and bowed to me.

Attend final classes that afternoon?  Scheduling classes after our graduation ceremony in the morning was anti-climactic.   I never would have given up the experiences I had that afternoon for anyone or anything.  The best part was experiencing it alone, on my own terms, deliciously secure as only a woman of a certain age can be.

emails home

Unfortunately, during my first trip to India in September, 2005, I did not keep the emails I sent home.  Y’all will have to be satisfied with my musings and rants from my second trip in March, 2006.

The first photo is me with Suresh’s (my autorickshaw driver) three darling daughters, his nephew, and a neighbor boy….such a simply sweet and beautiful day…..

The picture of me and my very large friend was taken in September 2005 in front the temple in Pondicherry….the blessing only cost me 1 rupee! definitely the money shot!
__________________________________________________________

3/6/06

…the intensive is going to be awesome, of course! this time we have Desikachar’s senior senior teachers teaching us and….Desikachar himself is teaching the meditation class and his son, Kausthub, is teaching the class on how the Sutras teach us how to transform ourselves.

This is a yoga teacher’s dream — at least for a teacher who believes that this is the heart of yoga. We chanted with Desikachar this morning, and he told us we sounded “fantastic”….

Once again, being here confirms for me that yoga is not about the body, but about transforming the mind. And once again it confirms that no one can put their own name on a 5000 year old tradition — not John Friend, not Ana Forrest, not Bikram….

This morning they talked about how true personal transformation, on a deeper level, can not come from a group class, it can only be done on an individual level, one-on-one, like Krishnamacharya taught. It can start in a group yoga class, but can only reach culmination, one-on-one.

As I laid in bed this morning in the throes of jet lag, I realized what coming here does for me — India integrates me, takes the yin and yang and pulls it together into the One that gives me peace. It is hard to describe, but when I realized it, it literally felt like two halves melting into one.

mmmmmmm……my India …..
__________________________________________________________

3/11/2006
first weekend of traveling…

woke up this morning in Pondicherry . Starting walking at 7 am — to beach on the Bay of Bengal , taking my time….. stopped to make “happy birthday” call to hubby while I was drinking REAL indian chai for 3 rupees a cup — had 3 cups. 44 rupees to $1 so figure it out!

There is a Ganesh temple in Pondicherry — the temple where the elephant blessed me last year. On my way back from the beach, they were walking the temple elephant thru the streets to the temple, her face decorated, her “ankles” wearing bracelets. They took the real Ganesha into the temple and walked her around. Following her were the priests beating drums, blowing horns, and pulling a movable altar with a statue of Ganesh covered in garlands. They walked her around the temple about 5 times or so, then took her outside. Every time she passed me I said OM GUM GANA PATAYAI NAMAHA, Ganesh’s mantra. The whole experience was awesome. And yes, Ganesha blessed me again…..when I gave her a rupee. The elephant is 15 years old by the way, still a young temple elephant.

I had breakfast on the beach in a tiny restaurant, 30 rupees. Idly with chutneys and a sweet lassi, of course…..

My trip is a bit different this year — I realized that now that I see the underbelly of India , last year, I saw only the good thru rose colored glasses. Now I see everything more clearly, the garbage, the shit — dog, cow, and human — on the streets, the starving dogs, the beggars holding puppies or babies to get your sympathy. There were two little girls, one holding a little puppy not more than 2 months old, so of course I gave them all my rupee coins and 30 rupees in paper money, how could I resist? I told them to feed themselves and the puppy. Who knows if they will feed the puppy?

But in spite of this, I love it here. I am a true buddhist when I can see reality as it really is, not as I wish it to be with no starving puppies and little beggar girls and no shit on the streets! This morning I called from the beach on my cell phone to Madurai , the temple town I will visit in two weeks, called 2 places to reserve a room. I have a reservation at a 1000 rupee hotel and a 118 rupee guesthouse next to the temple…..guess which one I will stay at??

well, think I will go back to hotel now, to shower, and go out for another walk. Will head back to Chennai about 3 pm or so…..

bye for now — and think about elephant blessings…. and all the other blessings you have in your lives…..
_________________________________________________________

3/16/2006

…it was a great theory class today, all about the bandhas, so interesting!! once again, being here re-confirms for me how this is the pure, traditional yoga, the heart, anything else is just faking it…..and anyone who puts their own name on yoga…
PUH-LEEEEEEZE!

the teachers keep emphasizing how personal transformation is the true goal of yoga, not getting the yoga butt or abs, but personal transformation, changing our states of mind, replacing negative tendencies with positive ones, and connecting to the True Self, how ultimately this can not be done in a group yoga class, it can only be done one-on-one with a teacher, as Krishnamacharya taught.

They showed us the sequence on how to teach the bandhas, starting with jalandhara going down to mulabandha, and how people should be able to inhale and exhale at least to a count of 10 or 12, before even attempting to work with the bandhas. Also told us about contraindications. Again, once more this emphasized for me, what NOT to teach in a group class, because everyone is different and everyone will have a different reaction to it — uddiyana bandha aggravates vata for example.

We were told that Krishnamacharya did not believe in kriyas. He said pranayama practice — properly done — was effective enough to cleanse the body of impurities. Desikachar was with us last night and he told us stories of his father, about how Krishnamacharya stopped his own heart for 2 minutes — it was only then that Desikachar took up the practice of yoga, when he saw the power of it. Until then he was not interested in it. This was in 1962 or so.

I’ve gotten pretty good at chanting the Gayatri mantra….I don’t sound too much like a howling dog anymore!

other than that, was in a very minor rickshaw accident the other night, but was not hurt. Went out with a South African student to a bookstore and in search of sweet lassis. A Muslim woman on a scooter turned into us, her front wheel ended up underneath the rickshaw and she fell off. no one stopped to help, but the guy I was with got out to help her up. She just got on the scooter and took off like nothing was. We were lucky — two other students were in a rickshaw accident where the rickshaw rolled over. Lucky for them that they escaped with only bruises and scrapes, nothing broken.

This is India….
___________________________________________________________

3/20/2006

I just got back from another beautiful day in Chennai, thanks to my rickshaw driver, Suresh. I used his services last September. He usually hangs out at The Woodlands Hotel (a hangout for Westerners in Chennai) but is available for hire for the “American madam”. Thanks to Suresh I got my best photos last year, when he took me on my last day to Chennai’s veg/fruit/flower warehouses….

Suresh does not speak the best English, but we communicate. At the beginning of this week he invited me to his house for Sunday (today), and kept reminding me about it — “wife make fish, good, Madam…” with a big smile. He said he would buy a fish, and his wife would use a little oil (because he knows I don’t like “grease”) and some spices, and his wife will cook us a feast! He picked me up and I knew it would be a traditional South Indian meal when he stopped to get some banana leaves (banana leaves are used for plates.)

I kept thinking about how our relationship has changed since last year. He invited me to his house so he must think I will not be judgmental of him as a poor rickshaw driver. Many people I know would scoff at the idea of sitting on a concrete floor eating a wonderful meal with a rickshaw driver and his wife and kids (none of whom speak English!). Many higher caste Indian would not even consider it….

The fish was great, with steamed rice and a veg salad, and a dish of mutton besides. I hoped that his wife would not be insulted that I could not eat all that she gave me — I don’t eat much, and after a few slices of fish, I was full. The funny thing was that they gave me utensils and I said, no, I will eat with my right hand, south Indian style. The kids tried to use the spoons — they sat up nice and straight looking proper, and I motioned for them to forget the spoons, just eat Indian style, which they gladly did, immediately. It was a good laugh….

It amazes me how Indian women, no matter how poor they are, always look beautiful in their saris and gold jewelery, and we Westerners always look like refugees. With many there is a certain elegance as they glide through the dirtiest and dustiest of streets, seemingly without a drop of sweat on their brows….

We got to his house (two rooms, and the Indian squat toilet is outside in another room of the building, clothes washing is done in a bucket, and pounded against the ground), and of course the neighbors had to come to see the American (I don’t think too many westerners visit this part of Chennai.) His place costs 1500 rupees per month, the one across the way costs 3000 rupees/month — for “rich people” he says (44 R = $1)

He told everyone I am the American yoga teacher he drives around. They were all interested in my tattoos, especially the kids. Suresh has three daughters (which is a curse for a poor Indian man, he must come up with a dowry for each one when they marry), and I also met his nephew. After lunch, we went up on the roof where the laundry was blowing in the breeze, and the kids started posing for pictures. I took a ton of pics of the kids and some neighbors. It was a beautiful way to spend an afternoon, to me, the “real India”. I felt honored to be there, on the roof, running around with the kids, showing them the pics on the camera, it made me want to cry. These Indians I was with, none of whom speak English, treated me like family, someone who they will never see again….how many of us would do that?? It was a day I will never forget.

I heard the kids calling me auntyji, which is a term of respect for the older “aunty” in the family…..

this is my India ….tomorrow night on to Madurai, and more Indian adventures….