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.