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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Scaffolding

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.

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I would like a shower.

Hyderabad

Hyderabad

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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