Daily Archives: June 28, 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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