I want to write to you through eyes that have never been. In some ways I feel like that. A year and a half has passed and in a place as mysterious and changing as India, everything is new daily. So here I am.
Some things change. Some stay the same. Still there is the Indian man, “You come to know yoga. You can’t be knowing yoga.” “Okay,” I say. Smile. Smile. Move on.
But the changes… Well trip Number One, the shots: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, Tuberculosis?, etc, etc. The malaria pills that made me woozy and dreaming. The never ending flight that stopped in Bangladesh unexpectedly. (Were we even allowed to be there?) And the toilets that were holes in floors. The OLD Bangalore airport.
Covered head to toe in sweats and scarves except for carefully bought sandals creeping out. Carrying all that luggage a backpack across front and back. Trying to hike bottoms of pants up from dragging on wet bathroom tiles. Hike top of pants down. Squatting into holes in floors.
And no more flying AIR INDIA, queen of missed transfers and crying babies. I’m in Emirates now. Leg room. Warm wet towels and only, well, ok, still a couple of cries. BUT, movie options in English, Yeah! and all that leg room.
Still, here I am at 3AM standing at the conveyor watching waiting the luggage going round and round. I should have looked more closely at my suitcase. Which one is it? And a three hour drive ahead, if I find the driver. He’ll blow into Mysore this time of night speeding and stopping with no regard for a westerner’s fears. Lucky I’m used to it.
There is nothing like it, you know, shooting through the Middle East, then Asia, to remind you how many people there are doing their jobs, living their lives.
First steps outside. The same sensation as always. Instantly the smell. The smell mixed in the air. Thick wet incense smelling air. How can an entire country smell of a burning stick? Wet. wet and thick like Puerto Rico. Florida. But it’s not rainy season so I comment to my driver. “Oh,” he says, “you knowing India”.
Two suitcases I brought this time. It’s my Sixth trip and I don’t feel like suffering. I want my things with me and to avoid as much as possible the washing of yoga clothes as I take my bath and the wearing again and again of same shirts.
He puts my small suitcase in the tiny trunk and the larger suitcase he hauls into the back seat. I’m confused when he encourages me to sit front side. I never got upfront before. Not on a ride like this. They usually put your suitcase upright in the back seat if the trunk is full. Uhhhhh…. I hesitate but ultimately get in the front. (I hope this guy can drive.) And big shocker, the seat belt is broken. (I really hope this guy can drive.)
And it’s raining and someone tell me why they’ve tinted out the top AND bottom of the windshield so you can only see out through this tiny strip of clear glass in the center. I look for Ganesha, remover of obstacles. Indians always have little miniature idols on their dashboards and front mirrors. I’ve even heard of wives blessing cars for their husband drivers. No Ganesh here though, just a mini Buddha, and one small doll hanging from the mirror. I ask what it is. He says it’s a doll. A gift. Looks like a pink poodle. Never wanted Ganesha so badly.
New eyes. New eyes. What do I see? Where in New York we would have graffiti on those blank city walls, here they have movie posters. The one famous male star with his predictable mustache and the curvy letters of the local language, Kannada. Coconut trees. Coffee Day, the Starbucks of south India. Christmas lights hung in the shape of G-ds. Lots of store gates painted bright blue. You know Slumdog Millionaire? It looks like that.
When a car backs up it plays cheesy Indian music that reminds me of the sound of the doorbell would make at my childhood Greek neighbor’s house where, like here they would cover the couches in plastic and display nick nacks proudly on special shelves where they’d be dusted daily.
A lot of buses. On one road will be a bus, a car, a truck, a rickshaw, a scooter, a bicycle, people walking and animals trotting right down the middle. Loudest horn wins. Passing is a science here: get as close as you can to the vehicle in front of you and beep your horn. Sometimes as you’re passing the car in front of you, you’re going into incoming traffic. The game of Chicken is the status quo.
Gas is petrol. Vegetarian is Veg or Pure Veg. Ask for some one’s Good Name when you ask for their name. Use your Right hand for eating, shaking and giving money. Left hand for anything dirty. And don’t expect change. No one has it. You may get stale candy instead.
5AM is the 1st coffee stop by the side of the road. A lady mixes it out of pots, blending warm milk and sugar and straining it in the end. It comes in a tiny plastic cup like you get at the dentist for rinsing. And it’s hot and sweet and perfect just like I remember it. Seems like all my memories of India come rising up as that first taste touches my lips: the yoga shala, my teacher, the friends I’ve made from all over the world and see only here.
It’s been six years since I first stepped onto Indian ground, open eyed and eager with not a clue what was ahead. Five trips later with an authorization to teach and a yoga shala built, I return. The same but changed, just like She is.