Cut to: Thursday, March 1st. 33 hours in transit from Mysore to Boston. That’s 4 hours careening down the Mysore road to Bangalore; weaving around trucks, pedestrians, cows, carts and entire families on one motorbike (mother, father, two kids and yes the baby too). I found it best to just close my eyes at some moments. Once, Cyndi let out an audible gasp as our driver performed a double-lorry passing maneuver with but a quarter inch to spare on either side. Our driver chuckled at Cyndi’s alarm, and when we eventually came upon an uncannily open stretch of road, we all joined him in the laughter. We had to. If you don’t laugh you might just cry. Or throw yourself from a moving vehicle. He was a good driver this one, he knew the way to the Bangalore airport. He drove with a nonchalant, meditative dexterity necessary for navigating porous and unpredictable Indian roads. “Every night,” he said. “Every night, I drive to Bangalore airport, and back to Mysore. For 8 years. I sleep 4 hours each day. My wife will be waiting for me.”
I measured the rapid excess of my own blood pressure, the holding of my breath at each changing of lanes. Every night. No big deal. Day to day existence in India is to a large degree putting your life in the hands of complete and total strangers. The busy roadway you are walking, the rickshaw drivers, the young man selling you the bottled water. It is a bit of a game of probability, but with over a billion souls in India, and growing, I suppose my odds are pretty good. So for a few minutes, anyways, I’ll pull my seatbelt a little snugger, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Next 11 hours are spent on a plane, followed by a 9 hour layover at the Paris airport. At least they have espresso. And quiche. And those little bottles of red wine. 8 more hours on plane #2 sailing over the Atlantic Ocean and then BOSTON shows up on the little map projecting from the seat back in front of me. We land, and before I know it I’m in a cab exiting I-93 southbound for Jamaica Plain. And for the first time in my life I think all these Massachusetts drivers are some kind of traffic-law abiding angels.
Was it all just a dream?
Tuesday afternoon, Cyndi, Kate and I met up at the shala during office hours to say goodbye to Sharath. We were called into his office, we thanked him for teaching us, and for teaching everyone who comes (so many people!). I had my camera with me and we chatted a bit about Canons and photography, and then he showed us his wildlife photography. Elephants, lions, tigers, deer, the beautiful kingfisher and other birds. His eyes smiled as he showed us a tiger taking down her prey. A prized photograph. “Many people want to buy this one,” he said pointing to the laptop screen. “I don’t sell, for myself only.” There was a point in his life, when he had the choice to either go to the shala and help his grandfather with the yoga students, or play cricket in the streets with the neighbors. He tells this story. For one week, he didn’t go. And then, he did. And he has been coming ever since. Perhaps Sharath would have enjoyed a career as a globe-trotting safari photographer, but globe-trotting yoga teacher is not a bad standby. I’d say its pretty good. And should the yoga thing not work out, he’ll always have his stash of lions, tigers and zebras in his private flickr account.
I was a student at the shala for one month. By the last few days I finally felt as if I was sinking my teeth in. Instead of a constant state of what is going on here I was becoming used to the sounds and the smells, the later morning practice time, the crowded shala, mid-morning coconuts, the food and the heat. The sore throat and the cautious stomach were gone. I’d found a routine, and also my husband had arrived in India a week prior and that was making me feel wholly grounded.
And then the calendar read February 29th, and we packed up our bags and set back out across the globe. Boston greeted us with snow. My cat was apathetic to my return, but still I was thrilled to see him. I used a washing machine, shopped at Whole Foods, and drank coffee from a french press. It is good to be home.
The day after we landed in America, I found myself wide awake at 3 AM and so headed over to Back Bay Yoga to take Karen Breneman’s led primary, her last class as our guest teacher here in Boston while we were all in India. Context was of course different, but these things were all the same: morning, me, mat, breath, posture, drishti, sweat, counting, and uth pluthi that seems to go on forever. And the practice continues…
Afterwards, we gathered ’round in the lobby so Karen could take a group photo on her busy little iPhone. We smiled, and in keeping with every Westerner’s “say cheese” joke in India, she said “Everyone say paneer!”
Be well, thanks for reading, see you Monday!