Moon Day

Moon days happen twice a month — full moon and new moon — and they mean a day off from practice.




Horses I saw yesterday morning!

Every Sunday Sharath does a conference. Everyone goes and sits together in the shala and it’s really the only time you see all of the yogis together at the same time. I think the current estimate is that there are 300 students. Word is that this is the largest number ever.

Other yogis have published synopses of Sharath’s talk, so I won’t — well, I’ll mention two things.

1) He reminisced about practicing yoga with his grandfather, Guruji, and it was so heartfelt that it made me tear up. He mentioned how much he misses Guruji’s help in backbends. For some reason, that really got to me. Then he talked about how Indian families are very, very close — and said he felt sorry for us Westerners, because as we reach adulthood, we have to “go out and find our lives.”

2) He asked that we stop feeding the street dogs. Apparently the dogs have been running up to children, probably looking for hand outs, and it is scaring people. Sharath mentioned People for Animals (a local animal shelter) and suggested we support them. He also said if we want to help the dogs, we could take them home with us. (I’m thinking that would get a swift thumbs down from Daisy.) I’m fine with not feeding the dogs — the last thing I’d want would be for them to start harassing locals or frightening the kids.

Today we saw a young woman walking a black dog on a leash — he had the characteristic shape of a street dog — so hopefully more and more people will start inviting these dogs into their homes as pets. Best we not screw that up by creating a situation where the locals grow irritated or angry with them.



Here’s a picture of Juanita, who lives at Anokhi Garden, where we’re staying. She is a pretty typical example of a street dog — she is the standard size and build, and the majority are this color, though there are a good number of black and white dogs. They’re lively and intelligent and independent. Yesterday morning, as I walked to practice at 5 AM, there were four or five of them playing a lively round of king of the mountain on a big hill of dirt next to the coconut stand. Very fun to watch.

Okay, so other photos:



Anna on the porch. We like our little ritual of drinks at 5 PM.

This is from yesterday afternoon. Following drinks, we went out to find Pascucci’s, an Italian cafe. Yes, you read that right.

I did a little research and read some hilarious reviews of the place. People seemed to like it pretty well, though they did note that Italian food is an “acquired taste.” I guess if you’ve eaten Indian food all of your life, Italian must seem very strange. Still, that review cracked me and Anna up, since we were raised on Italian food and it seems like the most agreeable and innocuous cuisine in the world.

Susan agreed to join us in our quest for Italian, even though she knows I have a reverse superpower that makes rickshaw drivers confused and unable to understand where I want to go. She’s seen it happen every time we’ve tried to go somewhere.

And no different last night. We had a lengthy conversation with three drivers about where we were trying to go, until finally one of them declared he knew where it was and that he would take us there. A short ride later, we were in front of a Chinese restaurant that the driver insisted was the right place.

Alrighty then. We paid him and set out on foot, with our map and good intentions. There were three of us, but, sadly, only one of us has any sense of direction (that would be Susan). We were a bit turned around, so we had a tour of the neighborhood, including the picture below.



Eventually we found Pascucci’s, which is trying to be an upscale place in a not-upscale neighborhood. There were a couple of Indian customers, but the rest of the customers were Western, including a table of Italians.

Anna ordered a strawberry soda, which arrived looking delicious, except for the ice cubes in it. Maybe I’m unnecessarily paranoid, but I’m highly suspicious of ice cubes. The likelihood that they were made with filtered water seems low to me. Poor Anna! She wanted her soda, but I wrecked it by telling her tales of (potential) illness requiring IV rehydration. She decided to just share my bottled water.

The pizza was good, though. A really nice change after a week of all Indian food, all the time. Oh, and the music at Pascucci’s was late 90s pop music: Jennifer Lopez, 98 Degrees, that sort of thing. “I’m reliving a seventh grade dance,” Anna said.

Our rickshaw ride home was a trip — I wish I had a video of it. Miraculously, the driver knew where to go, but it was like something from Extreme Rickshaw Games — mad driving, weaving, dodging, motor gunning. Bat out of hell stuff. Hilarious!

***

This morning I tried to figure out how to get to some different places around town and pretty much drove myself insane in my own head. Then I remembered a rickshaw driver we’d met by the coconut stand. Appu. Anna and I decided to go back to the Green Hotel (this time for lunch), so I called Appu, told her we were at Anokhi Garden, and asked him if he would drive us. He said he’d be there in 5 minutes, but showed up in 3.
As we got into the rickshaw, I asked him how much it would cost to go the Green Hotel, and he said “you choose,” meaning I could pay him what I thought reasonable. Okay. When we arrived, I handed I’m a hundred rupee note ($2) and said, “Thank you.”

“No, no,” he said, and gave me 50 back.

“When you want to go to the market, go shopping, go somewhere, you call me,” he said. And indeed, I will. I really struggle with direction and getting around in new places — and I’ve been kind of distressed by the hit or miss rickshaw rides. In western cities, I can do enough research to sort out undergrounds and cabs. But here in Mysore, addresses can be mysterious and drivers don’t always seem to know where things are. So I’m really relieved to know there’s a driver who can help us out and is willing to be on call.

So here are some pictures from the Green Hotel. We had a lovely, leisurely, quiet lunch. Anna had mutton and I had curried vegetables. And naan! Yum! I love Indian breads. I already know that’s the food I’m most going to miss when I leave.

I didn’t realize how stressed I’d been feeling from the busy-ness and noise until we sat there for a couple of hours and decompressed. Just what I needed.

Inside the menu of the Green Hotel, there’s this explanation:

The Green Hotel has been set up as a model of sustainable tourism:
– To preserve a historic building and grounds.
– To incorporate, as practicable, energy saving devices, such as solar heating, solar lighting and environmentally aware practices.
– To use Indian craft made items in furnishing, equipment and restoration.
– To be a good employer, offering equal and fair opportunities.
– To train and develop staff potential.
– To provide visitors with the opportunity to enjoy traditional hospitality rather than modern day uniformity.
All profits from The Green Hotel are distributed in charitable and environmental projects in India.

(Thanks to Anna for pointing this page out to me. It gives me ample justification for going back to The Green Hotel a bunch of times while we’re here.)

This evening, we had cocktails in the garden & Susan joined us. Lovely sitting out and chatting. We moved inside when the mosquitos started in on us.

What a peaceful moon day.

Now it’s leftover pizza and a little reading. Tomorrow starts a new week of practice. I’m so happy to be here.

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Day off, Errands

Saturday is the weekly day off from practice. Tova, just arrived from the US, came over to the guest house where we are staying and we had breakfast downstairs on the outdoor patio. Susan and Angie came over, along with some of Tova’s friends. So a nice, leisurely breakfast.

Then Anna, Susan and I ran some errands. First off, a phone for me. Everyone around here has Indian phones so they can text each other. I’d held off on getting one because I have my irrational desire to do everything via the iPad — but really, a phone will make things easier. The phone store is across the street from the coconut stand — a tiny place with phones and other technology on display — and you need to bring paperwork in order to get a phone; namely a copy of your passport and visa, as well as a passport photo. I’m not sure why these are required, but there you have it. At the place where Susan got her phone, they took her fingerprints. Mysterious.

The phone man asked me how long I’d be in India and whether I was learning yoga at the shala. He collected my paperwork, asked me to write down my US address and sign a couple of papers. He told me that service and texting are free for the first month, and that I can use the phone again when I come back to India. He set up the phone, told me that it’d take an hour for it to go online, and collected 1500 rupees from me ($28). MUCH faster and more pleasant than a trip to the Verizon store in Scottsdale.

After the phone store, we went looking for booze. When Dion and I were skyping, he challenged me to find tequila. Um, no. No luck at all. We did, however, find a shop with other spirits. I saw vodka brands I recognized (Smirnoff, Absolut) but we were shopping for whiskey. No luck, in terms of bourbon (what, no Jack Daniels?!) but there was scotch. I asked the man behind the counter which whiskey was best and he took a box off the shelf, opened it to show us the bottle, then repackaged it. Okay — sold. Along with a couple of liter bottles of 7Up.



Whee! We can have happy hour in the garden!

After booze-buying, we stopped in a little shoe store so Susan could pick up a pair of shoes suitable for her lengthy exploratory walks. Then off we went to the Silver Nest, where Meena brought us into her house and showed us tray after tray of silver jewelry. Pendants, chains, bracelets, earrings, toe rings. Anna found a Ganesh pendant and toe rings, I found an Om necklace and chain, and Susan found some earrings and a Ganesh bracelet.

As Meena was showing us her wares, she had to keep leaving the room to tell the kids to quiet down. She explained that today is a holiday, so the kids aren’t in school. Then she noted that hers is the house where all of the neighborhood kids come to play.

Speaking of children, it’s very cute the way kids around here want to say “hello” and “how are you?” and interact with us as we walk down the street. I’m shy about taking people’s pictures, but I hope I can get over it a bit before we leave. I’d love to get some photos — the kids around here are just beautiful.

After jewelry was purchased, we walked up the hill to visit the Chocolate Man’s stand. Yes, he has chocolate in beautiful wrappers, but he also sells all kinds of other (kinda random, but very appealing) items: vanilla soy milk, juices, corn flakes, Cocoa Puffs, jams. Here’s this tiny stall and you look inside and there are all these familiar looking items from home.



Here’s a dark chocolate/coffee bar, a milk chocolate butterscotch, and a dark chocolate/cashew. Decadent!

Booze, silver and chocolate. What more do you need?

Well, some lunch would be nice.

Today we walked over to Tina’s Cafe for lunch. Tina’s serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals.



Susan and I got dahl (beans) and Anna tried the chicken curry. We had rice and raita (a yogurt condiment) and aloo paratha (a delicious bread stuffed with potatoes).



After lunch, Susan went off to continue her marathon walk-all-over-India project, and Anna and I headed back home for some down time.



We’ve seen a lot of beautiful houses today.




And more modest homes.



And here’s a gateway — I’m not sure of its significance. We were just walking down a dirt road and there it was.

Okay. Now it’s rest time, following which we’ll do the civilized thing and have cocktails in the garden. Tomorrow it’s back to practice, starting at 6 AM. But for today it’s rest and socializing.

First led class

Most days, Ashtangis do a self practice. We all do the same sequences, but everyone is at their individual place in the sequences — so when I go to the shala, I wait for Sharath or Saraswati to call, “One more!” — meaning next person in line in the foyer can come in and take the mat space of a person who has just finished their practice. When it’s my turn and the “one more” is me, I enter the room and launch into my personal practice.

On Fridays and Sundays, though, we do led class. What that means is that everyone starts together and we are synchronized by Sharath counting the primary series. He calls out the name of the pose in Sanskrit, then counts — each count has an inhale or exhale associated with it, and each count has a movement associated with it. Kind of like tai chi in terms of movement, and like synchronized swimming in terms of everyone trying to stay together.

So today was my first led class. I start at 6 AM, but walked to the shala around 5:15. The shala clock is (famously) 15 minutes early, and you are supposed to arrive 15 minutes earlier than that. On my way, I had a nice time feeding the street dogs a few of the dog biscuits I bought yesterday at Nilgiri market.

At the shala, a bunch of people were already sitting on the steps, waiting for the 4:30 AM led class to end and the 6 AM class to begin. It was really nice to sit in the early morning darkness with everyone — all of us practicing the same practice. Sure, many people have different things they’re good at or that they struggle with, but in the end, we’re all working together at the same thing.

Then the door opens and everyone files in. It’s kind of hilarious, because there are just too many people to funnel into the small doorway. So we crept inch by inch. A tall fellow to my left started chuckling at how impossible it seemed to get us all through the doorway. No one pushed, though — I didn’t even feel anyone bump me. It’s an interesting practice: how do you deal with your eagerness when you are part of a larger group?

Once inside, I found myself a comfy spot up on the stage. I was one of the last people to snag a spot, so I gather no one wants the stage. I have no idea why that would be, though — you can only fit four people up there, so you end up with a good bit of space, and I prefer the marble tile to the blanketed floor below the stage. Of course, Sharath’s chair is also on the stage, and he did sit there a good bit of the time as he counted. I mostly just felt happy to be close to him, even though I had a bit of a scared moment when I realized he was stopping some people from going on (if he thinks you are not ready for additional poses in the series, he’ll tell you to stop. I heard him say, “Time for a coconut,” to one fellow yesterday — suggesting he should wrap it up and go have a drink at the coconut stand). So I wondered if perhaps I had put myself in harm’s way by unrolling my mat right next to his chair.

But the scared feeling passed — I think I was having a high from listening to dogs happily crunch biscuits and those moments of communing silently with the other stair-waiting Ashtangis while we listened to Sharath counting the earlier class as prayers from the mosque down the street drifted by and the scent of jasmine flowers filled the air. If he’d told me to knock off and go get a coconut, I don’t know that it would have bothered me. Oh, sure — after I had some time to realize what had happened it would have crushed my ego to bits, but in the moment, I think I was really just present to whatever was happening. Ekam means hands up in the air, dve means hands to the ground. This really is zen.

Vegan in India

At Edelweiss Cafe, there are two veggie burgers on the menu. A plain one, and a deluxe, with cheese and tomato and onion. I ordered a veggie burger and assumed that since I hadn’t said “deluxe,” I’d get the plain one.

But I got the deluxe. It’s easy to be vegetarian in Mysore (hence our somewhat lengthy journey to find some chicken for Anna), but there is lots of ghee (clarified butter) and cheese on offer. Veganism is catered to at some of the local yogi-centric restaurants, but it doesn’t appear to be the norm. Anyhow, I know I have been getting some dairy in my food, though I try to select items that won’t have any.

Still, at Edelweiss my burger was delivered with a slice of cheese on it. I paused for a moment, and then I ate it. We’d just come through some streets where women crouched outside by spigots, washing their dishes in the street, and the people clearly had much rougher lives than the occupants of Gokulam (the area of Mysore where we’re staying). The cafe we were in was tiny and very modest, and I assume the two workers were the owners. People were really scratching out a living all around us. There was no way I could reject the slice of cheese.

Anna and I tend not to be big eaters, and India is actually a good place for people with smaller appetites. No supersized meals. Still, we can’t always finish what’s in front of us, and every time we walk away from a restaurant table here, I hope that whatever we haven’t managed to eat finds its way to a person or an animal.

I can’t imagine it not happening: one thing I see is animals (cows, dogs, and goats) grabbing small bags of trash and shaking them until they open and spew their contents. It accounts for all of the trash on the sidewalks and medians. There does not to seem to be any trash collecting — I see housewives putting small knotted bags of trash in the culverts in front of their houses, and I guess it’s then just a case of it being picked up by any creature that has a use for it.

Edelweiss, MyStore, Nilgiri Market

After Anna’s sad banana dinner, I felt I had to make it up to her by bringing her somewhere where she could get some meat for lunch. So we went to Edelweiss — an Austrian cafe run by Indians in Mysore.

The cafe was a little ways away, so Anna and I took a rickshaw ride. Rickshaws are three wheeled conveyances that seem to be scooters with a shell welded onto it for passengers.

We showed the driver our map and he said he knew how to get there and off we went. (Click on the picture below to get a video clip of our ride.)



Then he stopped to have a conversation with another driver and I heard the word Edelweiss and the street name. Apparently when he said he knew how to get there, he meant he would know how to get there once he asked for directions from another driver.

Off we went again, through winding streets, into unfamiliar territory. Sure enough, though, he dropped us off right in front of Edelweiss. Cab ride: 30 rupees.

I’d have been suspicious about an Austrian cafe in Mysore, except there were actually two Austrians (or Germans — sorry, I can’t distinguish) having lunch there, and the woman made a point of telling us that the food was very good as they were leaving.

Anna had chicken and French fries and lime soda. I had the veggie burger and wedge potatoes and lime juice. And it was yummy.



Look how much happier she is than during the banana dinner.




We then grabbed a rickshaw and asked the driver to bring us to Nilgiri market, because I REALLY wanted some peanut butter for peanut butter fingers (Joey Tribianni reference!). He said he knew how to get there and that it would be 30 rupees. That sounded right — 30 rupees out and 30 rupees back to our neighborhood.

Except we ended up at a market called MyStore. Hmmm. We had no idea where we were. Still, we’d been needing some bandaids for flip flop blisters, so decided to check the place out. While we browsed, a young girl came over to help us. She was probably 18 or so, and very shy, but she wanted to interact with us. She helped us find the bandaids, then brought us to the cash register. There was a long line on the only register that was open, but she waved us over to another register and called a woman to come ring up our purchase. I’m not exactly sure why, but the cashier, our helpful friend, and yet another worker then proceeded to open the package of bandaids, count them, then put them all back into the package.

We paid for the band aids and found another rickshaw stand. I shared my map of where we wanted to go, and the driver said he knew how to get there. We hopped in and then he called over a friend so they could discuss our destination. Then the driver turned to me and said, “Fifty.”

Fifty rupees. That sounded right: we’d driven 60 rupees away from home and now it was going to cost 50 to get back. (50 rupees is about a dollar.) I felt hopeful that we were heading in the right direction.

Sure enough, he got us right back to the little market street we go to for fruit.

Scared by Sharath

At the end of practice, we do backbends. Three of them, and then you come up to standing. Then you drop back to the floor in a backbend and come back up three times.

This morning, I stood up from the first set of backbends and Sharath was standing in front of me. Below is a picture of Anna reenacting what Sharath did.



“Duck feet,” he said, and laughed. (It appears, if this photo is any indication, that Anna is more stern about this infraction than Sharath is.)

“Do three,” he said, meaning the three drop backs. I did them, but I was pretty shaky coming back up to standing on the last one.

“Inhale, exhale,” he said, reminding me to regulate my breath more effectively.

“It’s scary when you’re here,” I said.

“That is why I come here,” he said. “To scare you.” Then he chuckled.

Then we did the last backbend, where you go back and the teacher holds your hips for balance and you walk your hands in as close as you can to your heels.

“Walk, walk,” he said. Then he said, “Crawl, crawl.” The crawling part is when you’ve walked your hands as close to your heels as you can and then you crawl your fingers like desperate inchworms to get a tiny bit closer. My hand bumped up against his foot. “My foot,” he said. “Not yours.” A little joke.

“Monday you catch,” he said — suggesting I can look forward to touching my heels. Of course, Monday is a moon day (no practice), so perhaps that is another little joke.

Bananarama

Anna is such a trouper. Last night we went to Anu’s for “dinner.” I put dinner in quotation marks because yogis often don’t eat dinner. This is a habit I just can’t get on board with, but nevertheless, we found ourselves at Anu’s, and the dinner menu is all smoothies.

I ordered a banana smoothie with dates and almonds. Anna ordered a mango smoothie. Ganesh told us that it isn’t mango season, so there were no mango smoothies. Anna went with the same thing I had.

It arose in our dinner conversation that she does not like bananas. I always forget that! I had to laugh: I brought her Earl Grey tea and some bananas before I went out to practice in the morning, and now here she was eating banana smoothie. Which comes in a bowl with a spoon, by the way.



I told her to let me get a picture of her being sad eating her banana dinner.



That’s my bowl on the right.