Monthly Archives: June 2009

Yoga: Addendum

So, I started going to 4:30 pm yoga because one day I missed, and then it became too easy to sleep in and accept the entropy of my self-discipline.

You’d think the place would be crowded with stragglers and late-sleepers like me, but when I arrived, only one other person waited. He was a young boy surely not out of his teens. He didn’t say a single word of recognition to me. He was already in the lotus position when I arrived. I unrolled my mat, making it just so, next to him. No one else came but our yoga instructor. Our number made us competition. So he could touch his palms entirely to the floor while standing? So what? I was going to take him down in defeat further than his flexible little spine could ever reach.

“Where is your other friend?” The yoga instructor asked. Anne hadn’t wanted to come. I am not the yoga watchdog, man.

I stared back resolved to end this questioning for good. “She couldn’t come today,” I said flatly, “…but I am here!” with a wry smile.

To my surprise, the instructor gave a staccato laugh without breaking my gaze. I had made the yoga master laugh! I didn’t even know he could, let alone would! Okay, get into the position. Not for long, though. I started doing the Pranayama breathing exercise. I breathed in my right nostril, held it close with my thumb, and the breathed out the left. I lifted one lid and monitored Yogenemy from my periphery.

I liked the afternoon session much better. I learned exactly what muscles should be stretching with the individual attention, and I didn’t have to wait so long for the instructor to check everyone else’s position before moving on. However, the instructor, having assumed that I had learned the native names for the positions, spoke mostly in Sanskrit. Yogenemy was always one step ahead of me in silently moving to the next position. My body fumbled around until I heard in short English “you, leg there” or “arms up!” from the instructor.

Once in the final position, however, I was determined. “Excellence!” The instructor said to me when I had my feet all the way on the ground behind my head. Hah! I snuck a glance at Yogenemy through the pinhole between my arm and my knee. Controlled breathing and close eyes? Ho ho, what excellent cover for jealousy. Well played, sir.

Then, we tried the squatting prayer pose. The fleas bite hard and frequent at this time of day. I attempted to balance my right ankle on my left squatted knee. By now, I had sweated so much that flea fleet descended on all areas of my flesh. I tried to hold my hands in prayer, balancing, but I couldn’t stop swatting at them. If I couldn’t levitate from nirvana, I could have lifted off from the spinning of my swatting wrists. I toppled over in a fury of flailing hands. Yogenemy had swatted just once. Maybe he wasn’t sweating. Maybe he had found more serenity, that jerk.

I salvaged my abilities for the rest of the session. When I left, I waved goodbye to the yoga instructor with a controlled smile. He waved back. Yogenemy said nothing.

Then, two afternoons later, I found an empty room. The caretaker had opened up the building and was waiting on the steps with his chin on his palm. We waited some time. After twenty minutes, I told him I would just come back tomorrow.

“You will practice?” he asked and gestured toward the mats. “Sir is not coming it seems.

“Oh, no, no, I am not good enough.” I said, getting on my bike.

“You don’t know yoga?” He questioned. Why wouldn’t I just stay? I didn’t need a referee to regulate my lunges, after all.

How could I explain? I know the asanas; that wasn’t the problem. But I needed my fierce, imaginary rivalry of Yogenemy to motivate me. I needed Sir to ignore at my asinine jokes, and to laugh at the unexpected ones. I needed him to tell me to hold the positions longer than I wanted to or thought I could. I needed everything but self-reflection. No wonder Sir is always on my case.

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I can see the progress from my window. Next door another hostel is going up. Rows of black tarps tied to spare poles form a camp between our buildings. The workers live here, the ones that construct the thing by a drowning interior light that illuminates the ribs of the windowless frame at night. If someone leaves the hallway windows cracked in the evening, the hot air bears the music someone is playing there from the radio or a cd. The tubular voices echo on the tiles as I shower in the muted fluorescent bathroom lights. As the building gets bigger and gleaming next door, the tents look more hashed each morning.

Adjacent wonder

Adjacent wonder

The juxtaposition of this wealth right on our campus seems wrong without margins to hold it. Students complain when the power cuts just as they’re writing that e-mail or trying to read, and when the solar-powered heater gives them with cold water. Meters away, men and their families shower behind thatch-woven outhouses. Intimate with the dirt and the rain, the life is eco but hardly friendly.

The construction materials are the strangest sight. Wooden scaffolding surrounds the concrete monsters. They have been removed since we have arrived from the building, but they aren’t unique to this university – it’s all over India.  I have seen men wearing nothing but a blanket around their waists balance on two poles between a wooden fulcrum to saulder. They are playing a dangerously real game of jenga on the curved, toothpick structures. And I can never tell, is the scaffolding leaning on the building or the other way around?

photo courtesy of Anne - see her blog for more visuals

photo courtesy of Anne - see her blog for more visuals

The Indian dream, our Contemporary India professor says, is to get an education and then leave India. She goes on: “If you opt for domesticity, however, gated communities are a reward if you believe in the great capitalist dream, but just outside are the slums, which fund your lifestyle.”

I cannot forget the man near the upscale Minerva Café. He sat in the dust near the broken sidewalk, unable or unwilling to stand. He wore a white towel that looked clean next to his even more sullied body. Maaaa! He sustained the cry of the poor when I walked past. His toothless mouth was open, his eyes illuminated, and he stretch out both hands palm-spread ready to receive the whole world. I kept walking. If I gave to him, I had to give to them all, especially the woman in a shredded sari trailing me, tapping my arm, and I couldn’t find my driver. There would be more, I said. There would be more time.

The pliant bodies of the poor support this whole country. They bend under the weight of this societal structure until they are fallen or removed. You never see them die, just beg and beg and beg. I could have been that man’s last hope. I never knew if he was able to move himself or if someone else gave him some rupees or scraps from the restaurant. And I don’t know who laid the tile floor of this hostel room to go home to an open fire and a holed roof, to build a thick life for someone who would arrive after they were gone.

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Note to Self

When you sweat here, the morning layers dry and stratify with the afternoon build-up. You slip through the streets this way. Mango juice drips from your hands. You have bargained down the price of bangles from a vendor after the Indian woman nearby scoffed as his inflated quotes. You will quote this back to whomever receives these as a gift to avoid looking cheap.

For dinner, you have eaten a ravvi masala dosa without a napkin and now and the spices are draining from all of your sinuses. You shower with the faithful bucket, refreshed but not for long in the un-air-conditioned room. You cannot tell if you are damp with clean water of a fresh grease of sweat. Do not take out your left eye contact before hand-washing. The masala is still there. The masala is always there.

And don’t remove the right, either.

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An Ordinary Evening in Hyderabad

In the end, in the whole psychology, the self,
the town, the weather, in a casual litter,
Together, said words of the world are the life of the world.

– Wallace Stevens

We hadn’t climbed high enough at the Charminar. The Golconda Fort was higher, and older. If you clap in a small area of the entrance the sound will carry all the way to a specific point hundreds of meters up a hill to the fort lookout. When the fort was in use, the clapping signaled a friendly visit or enemy approach. Now it signals to the vendors above, “Tourists ahead and willing to overpay for samosas!”

We walked around the once-grand rooms. Their yellow crumbles were plain in comparison to the Red Fort and the equally red Agra Fort but more expansive than both. Couples on secret dates took privilege of the cool stone inside the infinite, half-exposed spaces inside. Back home, kids go to Sonic to steal-away; here they murmur among ruins. Both inspiring.

I see you.

I see you.

The fort had been conquered enough times over to fill a 2 hour light and sound show. I don’t know what the significance of it was beyond that we had climbed to the top of it. We were walking up this rocky path between of boulders and ruins that looked like boulders because that’s the way everyone else was going and by the time we were halfway up we realized we were halfway up and someone said, maybe we can buy mineral water if we keep going.

I sat down on the ledge, tired. Sparrows darted around the thousand hidden cubbyholes in the stone that would make a bird happy. They captured the wind, letting themselves be whipped and riding it up above our heights. From this vista you can see the entire city seeping up and abutting the old fort wall from distances until the setting sun obliterates it at the horizon.


I would like a shower.



Then, I heard the cry of the occasion. A voice plaited with a dense but wafting iron timbre suddenly crescendoed through the hills. It’s sustained its tone even as its notes painted a huge range. The sound had reached me, but I was so captivated that I thought the entire city surely could hear it too and had stopped to listen. It took me a few minutes to realize that the cadence of this strange language was reciting the 5:00 prayer from a nearby mosque.

Within minutes, every mosque in the city below was broadcasting its version. The voices did not drone nor harmonize together but formed a rounded edict. I could hear each separately if I listened closely. I sat in the spot to see how the city responded when swaddled in its own words. The hums were parts of the reverberation of this windy night. Forming their own current they grasped at each other between the streets, moving higher than me, extending from the birds. The clapping, not of one hand but so many voices, had reached the lookout in proclamation at last.

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In the Thick Of It

Infinite games of Frogger would prepare no one to navigate 15 white kids through the tanned 7 million of this city. So we went to the most difficult place to cross the road – the roundabout near the Charminar. The four-pillar archway was built as a memorial to commemorate the riddance of a disease in the city in the late 1500s. Currently, it functions as a roadblock in the central old city.  Tourists infect the area now and we contributed.

Did not realize I had to climb this until I was climbing it.

Did not realize I had to climb this until I was climbing it.

We stumbled up 53 hot and crowded arterial stairs of the minarets. My legs almost failed to reach up some of the step inclines. Then, ducking below the low stone ledge at the edge of the cubbyhole, we emerged above the city.

The top of the Charminar forms a donut. Chew is readily available (and ubiquitously enjoyed by rickshaw wallahs) so if desire you could spit on the people lounging in the shade on the base below through the middle drop or those coming in on all sides from the outer edges without leaning very far. You’re stuck up there as you are at the Arch in St. Louis, but here you can topple out with poor balance. A bright yellow dome caps the middle and gives the center a bright glow without origin. The place is crowded too – the trolling security guard told our group to disperse because too many people were crowding around to take our pictures and clogging the small corridors. I feared more than once that I would be backed straight off of the structure by a horde of Indians taking surreptitious photos on their cell phones.

Charminar dome

Charminar dome

I found an unoccupied space to claim from a safe distance. From this height, the city’s manners display themselves for judgment. The rickshaws murmured and clustered as yellow jackets around the red, blue, green neon signs of the bazaar. Across the street, a mosque presides behind a large fence; blacker pigeons dismounted from its globular points and swirled in its tan archways Further, you could see into housing colonies of the surrounding hills. From this distance they all looked white until the hot smog screened them. They remained unattainable and unknowable even at this elevated glance.

Flowing to everywhere

Flowing to everywhere

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Remember the Benefit

I have signed up for daily 6:00 am yoga. Really, I have signed up for 5:45 yoga, because it takes some time to bike to the university yoga center, and when you break it down I have mostly committed to 5:30 am yoga because leggings present certain coordination and balance obstacles when you are attempting to put them on int a state not unlike a blind baby mouse, and I can say with confidence that I’m certainly signed on for 5:15 yoga, because the incubuses of my morning motivation need some time to bicker amongst themselves as the best way to get my body out of sweet, sweet repose so early.

I should mention that I hate yoga. I have tried it multiple times in multiple locations, all the while fuming slowly like the positions I am supposed to be mastering because I am failing at stretching. My whole life I have participated in sports involving quick spurts of activity that let you convince yourself that you aren’t really exercising: gymnastic, softball, racquetball. By nature I am not a very still or calculated person. These are traits I have always been determined to change about myself but easily forfeit to defeat. My dedication to yoga probably generates from some deep, vain desire to edify this self-loathing, to wallow in my own umlimber soul. Clearly a straight path to nirvana.

The yoga center is a large but unassuming building a mile away from our hostel. The mint green walls and yellow window frames distract it from considering itself a warehouse. Bright woven wool blankets and crayon-colored yoga mats enliven the metal roof and the concrete floor. Every morning when I retrieve mine from the dark room where they are kept, I am reminded of the musty, wooden smell of then nearly abandoned treehouse at my grandparent’s house in Michigan.

Our regular instructor is just as you might imagine – a short, compact bald man of indistinguishable age. He even speaks in compact sentences. No excessive words. A short, “You…hello, you!” to correct someone’s pose, usually mine. Then, “Get back” to indicate the end of a pose. Without fail every time, I time my breaths to the rhythm of the Beatles song by the same name.

When he learns my name, he pronounces it “Kather-reen.” I think he prefers using “Hello…You.”

The first week he asked me where all my other friends were, the ones who signed up eagerly the first day during our campus tour. Knowing that no one else in the group has any intention of getting up this early or coming to yoga, I make light of our lack of commitment. “We are doing a graded exposure system,” I quip. “Bringing one per day!” Okay, he just nods his head. I haven’t made the joke again. I leave the sarcasm with my shoes at the door, and attempt to get into the meditative state, but mostly swat at flies secretly.

One day a new instructor took over the exercise. I was relaxing in meditation already and was starting to feel as I always do – like I had truncated my sleep in bed just to come sleep in more uncomfortable position among strangers – when I heard a booming voice echo throughout the hall. In my enlightened state, I honestly thought the voice of God had descended to tell me, “Stretch! Higher! Yes! Lift your buttocks!”

When I opened my eyes, I saw the voice belonged to a rotund thick man white white hair pacing through the still bodies, his eyes closed too. We go through the opening ommmms and prayer. I know none of the words I repeat, but I have adopted them to mean “Please for the love of whatever God do not let me pull muscles I don’t know I have.”

The man continued to speak in stern yet encouraging phrases. “Very good!” he says genuinely when I somehow managed to reach my head to my feet while arching my back. “Dream on!” Right when we bigan holding the maximum stretchs in excruciating pain, he launches into long, detailed narratives about what part of the body should be hurting, what physical ailment it will alleviate, and what the medical etiology of its good name means.

“Remember the benefit!” he says when he can tell we are failing at a pose, which is most. So I try. I think about Thanatopsis. I think of the particles of my body dispering up and outwards, becoming a part of the world around it. I think of my mortality, my stiff bones popping as I move, my calves shaking just from standing on my tip-toes, the small energy capsule that is my body. Then, I know the benefit is for the person next to me, who is surely laughing internally at my red, grimacing, inverted face.

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The first metaphor lesson I received discussed houses. They come to represent their inhabitants, I learned, their architecture and mood reflections of the individual, internal dramas of the characters. At this time I was reading a lot of Dark Romantics ,though, so there were a lot of internal dramas and excessive number of people to be prone to them. These things just tend to happen when you marry your cousin and you are a bastard child and you also contract TB.

But if I myself was ever suffering the torment of buildings, it was upon my arrival in Hyderabad. I experienced a very negative, visceral reaction to this place once we slept off the fatigues. We are cloistered here in this university, away from main campus and even further from the city. I hadn’t come to like this city yet because I hadn’t had the opportunity to hate it. I am not fond of it in the way I am fond of Delhi, and I am only fond of Delhi because I survived it. I hated the raw sores of human suffering that it exposed to me, but I don’t regret my time there.  Hyderabad, however, felt like a wasteland for new reasons, and just like camp.

Our hostel is the newest building in a future student housing complex. It contains all the passivity of a place not taken in any memories. The road in front is unpaved.  Outside no foliage yet adorns the natural red rock and dirt, except one median of electric green grass. In the middle a small sapling reigns with its diminutive shadow. I imagine this is maintained with a kind of insane maintenance.


Inside, generic thin-framed drawings slouch on the wall. The recreation room has the charm of a dentist’s waiting room – full of singular chairs and an end table I use as a footrest. I pad down the slate grey concrete tiles in the middle of the night to use the restroom, where I wash with usually cold bucket water in the mornings.

P1060795 P1060797

There are only 16 of us in the whole big marrow of this place. When it rains, the roof leaks near the staircase, and the locks of doors rattle when you walk past. “It is like a mental hospital!” Anne said the first evening right before we turned out the light to go to bed.

We put up mosquito nets the second night after a rainstorm ushered in insects of every shape, size, color, and crunch into the hostel. They covered the walls and floor of the lobby. In the morning, thousands of insect corpses littered the floor having died from their brief lifespans or in a blazing glory encounter with the Pest-o-Matic in the corner.

We saw one lone mosquito in our room the whole night, but we have kept the nets up anyway. The gauzy divide provides false fortification. Siphoning off personal space in a building full of it seems foolish, reclusive. Yet, it etches relief out of the biting solitude of this huge building – this space is mine, my retreat, a self-imposed confine.


On my provided bulletin board I have tacked the only three reminders of home I managed to shove in my backpack that weren’t prevention for tropical diseases. They’re all short notes, one placed surreptitiously in my journal by my mom, two given to me by my friends Brenna and Paul. My computer troubles cut me off regularly form the people who could give me the most reassurance in my homesickness. The monsoon rains cut us all off completely with the power. In the still nights without A/C I sweat sleeping fitfully, pushing off the covers, tangling myself in the mosquito net.

In the first days, I took bike-rides to quell the restless deracination. I rented a bike from the hostel for 1000 rupees. Mine is a brambling oleo of parts attempting to hide it behind an absurdly cursive script on the side that says Miss India Emerald. It has no gears, barely brakes, and the tires are bound to blow before I leave. But, it gets me to and from campus with a little breeze and little effort.


Eventually, my indirection transformed from distraction to a deflated false solitude. As punctuation, when I rode back up the desreted hill in the pregnant twilight on evening, I saw bats as huge as a hawk twirling through the sky as if tethered to steady pendulums. C’mon metaphor, I thought. Really, now? The giant terrors swooped so low I seriously thought one might carry me off, which is premium motivation to pedal faster, even if it is back to an empty, dark concrete block resisting attachment.


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