Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gokulum Road Vignettes
A blanket wallah bobs along the uneven road. His cycle is stacked with two bushels of blankets tied with rope, towering beyond his head. Tassled ends splay out of the bundle which is, against all odds, bumping and listing without being tied down to the rack on the back of the cycle. I watch him bounce over monsoon-sized potholes, graceful in the way the whole unit- man, cycle, and blankets teeter on the edge of possibility in motion. Typical. If I wanted to buy a blanket, I would certainly holler him to wait and come down from my rooftop to check his wares. Is the quality matching the price?
A family of four on a Kawasaki, stacked like books end to end, ride along the main road on the way to some Friday night affair. Dad mans the handlebars, Mom is on the back, riding side-saddle. A 6-ish year old is sandwiched between them, and a toddler in Mom’s arms. The string of jasmine in her hair whips behind them, she fixes her saree with one hand, holds the child with the other. The one in the middle peeks from between Mom’s breast and Dad’s flapping shirt back, legs sticking out the side like stray hairs from a braid. Dad is concentrating.
A rick-shaw honks at me and I jump onto the dirt. Screaming school children, at least eight, jumbled in the single arm-chair sized space, hang from the bars, yelling “hello foreigner!” School bags are crowded in piles on a hook on the side of the little yellow vehicle. A crush of white and blue knee socks, black braids, and little scuffed shoes go careening by me in a screaming splendor. Look out. When it comes to school kids, the rick-shaw drivers make no compromise. No amount of money can draw them from their commitment to picking up the masses of children. No obstacle in the path will be tolerated on the bumpy journey home. Including wandering yoga students.
The sun goes down and the oil temperature goes up. If you can fry it, you can serve it. The potato chip wallah sets up road side. The dust that fills my eyes and nose inevitably seasons the fry oil. Hand-sliced thins drop into a wok about 5 feet in diameter, balanced on an oil drum with fire inside. A skimmer twice as big as a dinner plate trolls the wok to draw up dripping wedges for the pile of fresh crisps. Served on a paper-thin plate that drips grease through onto your hand (better yours than mine- I don’t eat the chips dude). Next door the Puri wallah has a four-foot high sculpture of tiny, golden flying saucers arranged in a tube-shaped tower with the condiments at the center. The flatbreads are fried to a circle shape and served chat-style. Four puri are plated, the centers of the flying saucers are smushed, filled with tamarind and yogurt, then the four circles are smothered with raw onions, little fried vermicelli pieces, and chopped cilantro. Another cart down we have the Chinese Fried Rice wallah, green coconuts chopped open and served with a straw.
In the heat of an after school afternoon, the Mahaveera ice cream cart jingles along a neighborhood side street. Salmon colored wafer cones in a long bag sway from the top of the cart. Plastic jars, almost empty, cook contents in the sun. A mash green like candied Christmas cherries, something red as marashcino, some brown-color chunky gravy completely indistinguishable. Dusty plastic buckets, the same variety I have in the bathroom for trash, are lined up on the cart, covered with metal plates. A few sticky spoons strewn about. Oh man.
A lorry with a bed full of plastic chairs, stacked a story high, negotiates the road. Bright blue, red, and white chairs high as the eye can see and a man standing among them to control the stacks. A circular label on a chair-back: “Plastics for a Better World!”
Idly is the yogis’ fave. Although there is a sad contingent who eat only western style foods here, south Indian breakfast is worth flying here for! A batter is made of rice and a certain type of lentil which is then steamed and served with coconut chutney and sambhar, a spicy tomato based soup with random veggies in it. Idly is usually only served until 10:30 or 11. Thali happens from 12-3. This is a food combining nightmare consisting of a mountain of rice surrounded by little cups of mushy veggies, more sambhar, yoghurt (called curd- yoghurt is actually “set curd”), a “sweet” which is usually a kheer (rice pudding), one or two chapatti, like a wheat tortilla, and papadam, a fried crispy wafer-like circle made of lentil flour. Dinner is a dream that exists in the lives of those who get up later 3 AM. I think I remember something called dinner…

“First batch” is at at 4:45 Shala Time, which is 15 minutes fast, so we show up at 4:30. Sharath told us at conference this week that he used to ride the motorbike to downtown, 15 or 20 minutes, every morning at 3AM to practice. I suppose I can’t complain (moan). Last night there was a wedding in the neighborhood with extremely loud Bollywood style music until they blew the PA around midnight. So I slept 2 hours.
Coming in to practice at 4:30, the room is having more of the advanced practitioners, people who’ve been here a while, and mosquitoes. Your start time gets earlier as you stay. It’s very quiet but for the breath. Today a man fell out of a balancing pose and Sharath jokes “ don’t break my picture!” There is a photo of him taking Chakrabandasana on the wall there.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Back to Mystery and Possibility. The desire to “understand” mentally keeps coming up. Sharath thwarts my efforts at question-asking with terse answers. With Guruji, you could blame it on the English, but with Sharath…at first I took it personally. Of course. As if much of anything has to do with the personality of Kate. I feel her starting to break down. It hurt at first, like a crack along the deep ice I’ve been skating. Now, it feels more like bubbles rising and breaking on the surface of my resistance. For now, I know it, any sensation is always only For Now.
Yesterday’s meditation in practice was to remember, nobody here really cares about Kate except for Kate. Kate wants to be noticed for her efforts, possibly even recognized as something special. Kate wants to know its all for something, please, validate me. But that sort of attention just doesn’t come here. After wondering as usual why the hell I came all this way to be IGNORED along with everyone else, I settle into an anonymity, which has its own gifts to share. I find myself being more careful with my speech. Honestly, I am not sure I have an excess of prana to be squirting out the mouth.
I do relax the intensity of my asana. Indeed, my noble efforts at intensity prove nothing, and are beaten down by the routine of being required to do it every day. This every day element is so important! I just don’t see myself as clearly when I skip the days I don’t feel like looking. When I am tired, I must accept it, pace myself, and move on along. Perfection has no place here. Let me repeat that. PERFECTION HAS NO PLACE HERE. Only Kate wants that kind of perfection anyhow. Purity of intention, reduction of Ego-driven consciousness, faith and devotion- these are the perfect goals of this practice. If anything about this were ever perfect, we wouldn’t call it practice would we? We’d call it the Real Thing.