Kodaikanal, part 1

kodaikanal mama

two of the friendlier residents of Kodaikanal


I arrived in Kodaikanal and the bus dropped me off in the middle of town.  My two old Brahmin friends who discussed yoga philosophy with me bowed their heads and placed their hands in anjali mudra and told me that these “two old jivans” were honored to sit next to me and they hoped I would be blessed for the remainder of my trip.

One of the scenarios the old jivan presented to me was this:  he looked out the window and waved his hand at the poor people along the way.  He said, “what do you think, madam?  Why is one man born a king and the other born a beggar? Is that not fate?”  I shrugged and said that karma is not fate, it is cause and effect, that karma is karma, no more, no less. I told him that the beggar could very well have been a king in a previous life, and because of his past actions was reborn a beggar, maybe because he treated beggars very poorly when he was a king.   A man sitting in front of us turned around and said loudly, “She is right! Karma is karma!”, then said nothing more for the rest of the trip.  I smiled because I loved these little Indian vignettes.  The two old jivans laughed and discussed karma between themselves, maybe discussing how it was their karma to sit next to an American woman of a certain age who was dressed like an old hippie chick and who was reading an Indian book on meditation.

I was in Kodai only for two nights and I admit that maybe this was too short a time to form a proper opinion.  But as of right now, I would not return to Kodai, at least as a solo traveler.  I believe Kodai is best visited with other people, unlike the other cities I visited.   Despite the beauty of the surroundings compared to the dry Tamil Nadu I was accustomed to, I felt claustrophobic in Kodai, I felt trapped.  This was the first city where I felt bored and antsy.  One thing that was remarkably different was that I was never besieged by touts or beggars in Kodai – that was a refreshing change!  It was interesting how I was in a relatively clean, quiet town with the least amount of people so far, not hassled by touts or beggars, but I felt uncomfortable, and I did not feel that way in maddening Madurai or busy Chennai.

The place where I stayed was considered a “resort” and was more for tourist groups or for families.  Kodai is known for hiking trails, but I knew I would not feel safe hiking in the hills alone.  The center of town is small and there’s not much to do or see.  The connections at the two internet cafes were exceedingly slow.  Walking around town I found an ayurvedic store and made an appointment for another ayurvedic massage, hoping it would as wonderful as the one I had in Chennai.  I thought it might even be better since the store was run by an ashram – they had a convincing brochure about their services but I should have relied on the old adage about not judging the book by its cover.

When I arrived for my massage, I was taken into the basement of a nearby hotel and was shocked.  The basement was cold, damp, and scary, and it really looked like just what it was — an unfinished basement.  I was taken into a small, dark room that was literally freezing, the first time I had ever felt cold in India.  I looked around, disgusted.  The “masseuse” put an old, ratty towel on the table that was a duplicate version of the one in Chennai, like a doctor’s exam table from the 1950s.  Only this time the towel was greasy looking.  No way was I going to go through with this massage.  This room looked like the photos I remember from the pre-Roe v. Wade days — it looked like a room where a back-alley abortionist would do his work.

I told the woman who brought me that the room was disgusting and cold.  She turned on a heater that looked like it couldn’t heat up a closet much less a room, and she changed the towel to one that had smaller grease stains.  I shook my head and told her in no uncertain terms that I wanted my deposit back NOW.  She shrugged, didn’t try to argue, said no problem, and I left. So much for my wonderful ayurvedic massage.

I walked around town and met Tibetans for the first time.  The ones I met were open and friendly, very different from the Indians I experienced in Kodai.  I found a wonderful Tibetan restaurant where I would hang out and enjoy the warmth and I’m not talking about the temperature.  Fabulous steamed momos and an awesome soup that was so thick I ate it with a fork, all for less than $1.

I felt an underlying tension in Kodaikanal, an almost imperceptible violence that was waiting to explode.  I had never felt this before in my travels and I’m a good one for picking up the energy of a place.

An IndiaMiker told me this when I told him my feelings about being in Kodai:

“Most of those people selling fruit and trinkets to tourists in Kodai are tribals.  The only other source of employment in the area is the coffee and tea plantations, and the contracts are usually indenture.  So they are bonded laborers who try to scrape together a little cash when they aren’t picking leaves or beans–it’s either that or starve.  They live with all the caste discrimination and violence you would expect.  They’re even included in Human Rights Watch reports.  It’s genuinely cold in winter, at which time it also get the monsoon.  Roads wash out. Living in a thatched shack isn’t easy.

There are also plenty of monied interests–hotels, property development and luxury real estate, the plantation owners, etc.–that keep a firm hand on Kodai with bribes, violence, and other incentives.  The place is really a cesspool of corruption and environmental waste, with the people at the bottom little better than slaves.”

And here I was…

on to Kodaikanal

I moved on to Kodaikanal after Madurai.  Perched atop the Palani range, about 120km from Madurai, Kodaikanal is what is called a “hill station” surrounded by temperate forests of pines and deciduous trees.   Kodai’s wooded – and not so wooded anymore – slopes contain waterfalls and rocky outcroppings.  According to the Lonely Planet travel guide, it’s the only hill station in India that was established by American missionaries.   I had read about the greenery, the different climate, the different geography, and I was looking forward to a change of scenery from the dry, dusty Tamil Nadu I had become accustomed to.

The bus ride was once again an adventure.   I got on and the few seats left were in the back, along the long row.  I have long legs and did not want to spend hours with my knees up around my chin sitting behind one of the back seats, so I parked myself right in the middle of the long seat, my legs out in the aisle.  We picked up more people and two older men came toward me — I could tell that they expected me to move over to the window.  Not way, not a chance with my long legs.  They shrugged and proceeded to squeeze past me.  One sat next to the window, the other was trying to squeeze in next to me, on my left, next to his friend.   He had a hard time doing so because the person on my right would not budge an inch.  I got up a little, and as the man was squeezing in between me and his friend, I pushed him in next to me, like shoving someone through a door.  “Thank you, madam!”, he said with a big smile.

Within 10 minutes we started talking, the first question always “what country, madam?” and then “what job, madam?”. “America.”  “Yoga teacher.”   The man next to me translated that for his friend next to the window.   Big smiles all around.   “We also do yoga, every day,” and my old friend told me that just that morning he had done headstand AND shoulderstand.  These men appeared to be in their 60s.  They also made sure to tell me that they were Brahmins, the highest caste.  I always found it interesting that people (always men I realized) would tell me that.

My old friend told me that his friend has a brother living in the ashram of Swami Nirgunananda in Chandigarh, which is close to Delhi.  Before I know it an address book is pulled out and I have the Swami’s cell phone number!  Outstanding! Life is all about the connections we make and that seems so especially in India.  You can bet that I have that scrap of paper with the Swami’s phone number tucked away in a safe place.  Google and ye shall find so I found that not much information came up, which to me means he’s the real deal.  That tells me he’s not a show biz guru.  Another time, another trip, I have the rest of my life.

We settled in for the three hour bus ride to Kodai.  I pulled out a book I had bought at the Ramakrishna Math in Chennai, Meditation According To Yoga Vedanta.  My old friend saw the book and asked to look at it then he showed it to his friend.  I never got to read another page because for the next two hours because I was grilled like a school girl before her school masters.

laundry day

laundry day in Kodaikanal

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad Madurai

The day I left for Madurai I went to a beauty salon to get mehndi on my feet. The salon ladies were fascinated by my tattoos and they were admiring them when the owner walked in. She was a big woman wearing a beautiful hot pink sari and heavy with gold jewelry — her personality matched her appearance. She shoved her way through the crowd saying, “I want to see everything!” She stuck her finger in the air and announced, “I want to learn this!”, as if learning the art of tattooing is the easiest thing in the world.

They caught a glimpse of my shoulder tattoo. I did not plan to take off my clothes but the owner commanded, “Take off top, BE FREE, BE FREE!” I wore a camisole underneath so I removed the top of my salwar kameez. Everyone gushed over the intricate flower vines surrounding a colorful butterfly.

Then they saw the large sun/moon tattoo peeking above the waistband of my salwar and two women began to pull it down. The moon has eyes and a Nepali woman loved it so much that she kissed her fingers and touched my tattoo. “The eyes is talking to me, the eyes is talking to me,” she said as she repeatedly kissed her fingers and touched the eyes of the moon.

Women took pictures of my tattoos, the mehndi was started, and the Nepali woman drew my tattoos in a sketchbook. She told me that she loves tattoos and wants to become a tattoo artist, but there is no place in Chennai to learn. The women asked if I wanted to get my nose pierced and the Nepali woman confided that some Indian women get their nipples pierced. “But only married ladies after one baby,” she said very seriously. I loved that she was so open with me, a westerner whom she would never see again. I was just one of the girls that afternoon.

That night I left on the 9:30 train to Madurai and as I sat alone in my berth two young men in their 20s came in. When they saw me they looked as if I had lifted up my kurta to flash them. Their mouths dropped open in unison and they did not say a word. I thought their reaction strange and I felt like saying, “Hello, boys, you’ve never seen a woman before?” I said hello in Tamil and smiled. They sat across from me and as I sat across from them with a half smile on my face they tried to look anywhere but at me.

I’ve been told that sometimes this is typical male behavior when so close to a woman, especially one as strange as me — western, a tattooed ageless hippie chick, dressed in Indian clothes, and bold enough to look them in the eye. I’ve also been told that some young Indian males are starved for any kind of interaction with the opposite sex — usually there is no premarital sex and there is hardly any communication between boys and girls at school. Growing up like this leaves men clueless as to how to behave and some also believe the misconceptions about western women.

At the last minute an older man sat next to me and I said, “We’re all going to be just cozy now, aren’t we?” The young men again looked like I had not only flashed them but also blew them a kiss. At least the older man had the manners to say hello to me. These boys looked so nervous I felt sorry for them. They finally got their act together, i.e., making sure they never looked at me, and we all settled into our berths for the overnight train ride.

As the train pulled into Madurai in the morning, the older man wished me a nice day and the boys tripped all over themselves in a rush to get out. I was sure that this was the first time they had slept so close to a woman.

After a nine hour train ride I was in no mood for nonsense, but I was instantly accosted by a dozen auto rickshaw drivers, so much so that a station security guard told them to leave me alone. I chose one driver and as we walked through the phalanx of drivers they started to laugh and yell, “here madam, here madam, you want ride, madam?” “That’s it,” I said as I threw down my bag. I spun around and yelled loud enough to make the street dogs run: “ENOUGH OF THIS BULLSHIT!” That got everyone’s attention and I never saw a gaggle of drivers shut up so quickly. “No tension, madam, no tension, come with me,” my driver said. That was more like it and when we got to the hotel I paid him more than what we agreed to.

I stayed exactly 90 minutes at the guesthouse that was closest to the great temple. I took the recommendation of a well-known guide book and I decided that the writer must have been hallucinating from too many bhang lassis when he wrote the review.

I don’t mind cheap hotels in India but I draw the line at towels that looked like they were used to wash a car and greasy hair stains on the pillows. The place was disgusting. It looked like a room for serial killers to hold up during their rampage. The guts hung out of the air conditioner in the “deluxe AC room.”

The room was considered “deluxe” because you could walk out onto the roof of the floor below for a fabulous view of the temple. However, the window did not lock so anyone on that roof could crawl into your bed. The room also had a frosted glass door so it was not safe for a solo female traveler. When a man tried to get into my room about a hour after I checked in, I asked for another room but it had the same greasy towels and pillow cases. I got out, losing 500 rupees, and moved to a better hotel. I learned a valuable lesson for future trips to India: always look at the room before you hand over the rupees.

My first day in Madurai and now I knew why some westerners had that glazed “dead man walking” look in their eyes. It’s a defense mechanism – act deaf, dumb, and blind and maybe you’ll be spared from the incessant touts. I met nice old men who told me their life stories, and how America is a great country, and how their brother/uncle/son/cousin/sister’s husband has a clothes/jewelry/art/silver shop with a great roof top view of the temple, “just look, madam, no buy.”

The market across from the temple was filled with stalls of all types of merchandise and a great place to see those dead men walking. I ended up telling shop keepers and touts, “I’m a poor yoga teacher, no money” or “YOU buy ME something?” or “It’s against my religion.” The last story always worked. I also ended up with a screaming migraine headache from the constant harangue of “just look, no buy” and the heat and the closeness. I went back to my room, turned up the AC, put a cold cloth on my head, and didn’t wake up until the evening.

My second day was spent at the Gandhi museum, an inspiring and peaceful place where about 100 schoolgirls were more interested in me than in learning about their own history. The girls were sitting on the floor listening to the curator as I walked in. He immediately stopped talking and all heads turned around at the same time to look at me. I smiled and brought my hands to my chest and bowed. Everyone said hello to me in English, and I responded with a loud vanakkam. They exploded in laughter and with a big smile the curator asked, “What country, madam? America or UK?” “America.” “Ah, America!” Bigger smiles all around. Their teachers had their hands full trying to keep order all because of me.

As I walked around the exhibits I felt the schoolgirls’ eyes on me. I turned around and the girls would giggle. “Shhhh,” I said, putting my finger to my lips. “Read your history, don’t look at me.”, I told them with a wink. Occasionally I would feel a light touch on my back and I would turn around and a hand would cover a mouth, a giggle unsuccessfully suppressed.

My last day in Madurai was spent on a tour bus. An Indian tour bus is usually not decked out with plushy seats, air-conditioning, and a restroom – most of our seats were ripped and frayed but adequately comfortable. Sometimes you have the pleasure of listening to music played full blast through a shabby speaker, driver’s choice of music of course. I settled in and waited for the day’s adventures.

Once again I was the only westerner and I noticed that everyone had the same reaction to the condition of the bus. They walked up the stairs, stopped, looked around at the frayed seats, and either gulped or sneered. Off we went, all windows open to the Madurai heat and dust.

I don’t remember exactly what was on the tour, I just enjoyed riding around with a bus load of Indian tourists. Every time we stopped the driver would announce in Tamil where we were and how long we would be there. At the first stop I asked him how long and he sneered at me and grunted. I was on my own. I knew that if I did not get back in time, I would be left in the street. Finally a man told me in English “20 minutes” and at every stop I would look at him and he would smile and tell me how long we would be.

I loved the vignettes framed by the bus window. I saw a huge ram with massive horns sleeping peacefully in the gutter while a woman carefully swept the street around him; two flower sellers with their carts, talking quietly, engrossed in conversation as only women can be, as a street goat happily munched the flowers from one cart.

It was a lazy day and the only excitement we had was when the driver took a curve too fast and I felt the tires on my side of the bus lift up for about three seconds. People started to scream and the woman next to me flew out of her seat. She would have landed in the aisle had I not caught her sari and pulled her back down. I practiced equanimity — if I die in India so be it. I started to doze as the passengers yelled at the driver.

At one stop we were besieged by begging children, girls and boys. I saw that Indians rarely gave to beggars, so when a beggar sees a feringhi it’s an onslaught of constant cries for money. Trapped on a bus, I was ripe for the picking. I sat next to the rear door and it was the perfect place for a little girl to plant herself on the steps in front of me with her hand out with a constant cry that sounded like “ma” over and over and over again.

You need a thick skin to handle the beggars in India, even if they are children. I was not in the giving mood so I ignored her and stared out the window. Occasionally I would look at her and shake my head and tell her no in Tamil, but she never stopped. Every Indian also ignored her, but I had an idea. I pointed to each person on the bus and told her “ask him” or “ask her” and rubbed my fingers together, the universal sign for money. I said, “They give rupees, I give rupees”. She left me and went over the Indians. That finally got everyone’s attention, and when she started harassing the Indians, a woman said something and she left. The bus finally started and as we left I looked back to see the begging children swarm the next group of tourists, like yellow jackets to fresh meat.

Late at night when everyone was tired, hungry, and complaining we stopped at a Murugan temple, our last stop, and most of the passengers did not get off the bus. The temple would have been the highlight of my day because it is a very important temple, one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga, an important Hindu god worshiped in south India. It is huge temple carved into rock, but it was impossible to explore in the time we had, so I had to be satisfied with a quick walk-through. I should have planned my last day more carefully, but I wanted to leave the planning to someone else, even if it was a bus driver who spoke no English. Go with the flow, there will be a next time, and I remembered the words of the Chennai beauty shop owner, “be free, be free.”

We headed back to Madurai, everyone quiet now for the ride home. Despite the heat, the dust, a migraine headache, and the incessant touts that I experienced over the last few days, I again felt at peace here on a bus with strangers in a strange city in a strange land and I almost fell completely asleep.

We were in Madurai and I woke up to people screaming at the driver again. Apparently he wasn’t dropping people at their hotels, he was dropping people off wherever he felt like it. It was late, and the streets were crowded with people walking to the temple so the bus driver had trouble getting through the streets. I watched everything with detachment, watching group dynamics and mentally placing bets on who would win.

Every few blocks he would kick people off the bus, and the people would complain as they flagged down autorickshaws. Finally it was me and an older couple. I got off the bus and the husband started to argue with the driver. There was much hand waving and head wobbling, but the driver won and the husband finally got off. The bus left and the three of us stood in the middle of the street. Suddenly they spoke to me in perfect English, complaining about the bus and the driver. How funny that they never said a word to me all day yet we had sat across the aisle from each other.

I returned to my hotel and spent the rest of the evening in the roof-top restaurant, looking out over the temple complex and thinking about what India had taught me so far – more patience, how to be in the present moment, and detaching from the outcome. Anyone on the yoga path knows that these qualities sink a bit deeper into the consciousness the longer one does the work. But somehow, being in Ma India, my heart could open more fully, just as the lotus opens its petals as it rises out of the mud to reach for the glorious sun.

Goodbye Madurai. OM MURUGA, lead me from the darkness and into the light.

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!
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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 …..
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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…..
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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….
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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….