India

Posted by on Jul 18, 2012 in Blog | Comments Off on India

India

I still find myself in awe of the fact that I was able to get there.  India, in spite of a fear of confinement in long flights, of big bugs.  Of being so far away from family.  India, in spite of my fear of crowds and the unknown.  It was with great relief that I would be traveling with the best anti-anxiety medicine I could have had for such a long journey: my compatriot, my yogini partner in crime, Dipa.

There was a heavy-lidded stopover in Dubai where requisite stretching and eating inevitably took place.  It may have been the drugged middle of the night, jet lag talking, but there was such a surreal quality to this airport experience.  It was at once incredibly foreign and comfortably familiar.  Aside from the touristy trinkets of camels and tea services and having the option to relieve oneself in a hole in the floor rather than a toilet, the air was stale and static, the lights bright and fluorescent and the ceilings high and glassy.  It could have been Pearson in the desert.  Soon we embarked on the final leg to India.  We landed in the wee hours of morning in Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the largest city in Kerala.  My first impressions were noted in the airport.  It was crowded, and it was masculine.  So many men.  A step into the thick, moist air felt heavy and the weight of our distance took hold as we weaved between lanes on the way to our hotel, an oasis of security (they used mirrors under the taxi before allowing it to drive through the gates).  I rested my head against the window as we drove among the lit-up darkness.

There were a few initial days of getting over jetlag, of sleeping too late and laying wide awake at night.  The days were meandering ones, hot and dry, the sounds of horns and engines everywhere.  We met up with another friend from a previous training in Mexico and pounded the dirt roads with silly smiles.  There were precarious tuk tuk rides, sari/kurti shopping, amazing buffet meals of dosa and uttapam, chutney and sambar, delicious carrot halvah upon the windy hotel rooftop.  There was a long, dry, dusty walk through the baking streets as we explored, our wanderings perfumed with the wafting medicinal scents of roots and dried herbs from the Ayurvedic stalls.  We begged striking rickshaw drivers for a ride, pleading with our saddest eyes, until someone felt sufficiently bad for us and agreed to take our blistered, throbbing feet back to rest.  We went to the bar that night, the only women among men, and toasted this surreal experience.  The three of us sitting thousands of kilometers from home, toasting to our adventure, watching Pop Up Video on the TV screen.

After these few days we travelled together to Somatheeram, an Ayurvedic retreat center just outside of Kovalam.  Here we spent the next few weeks studying yoga, Ayurveda, yogic philosophy and swam in the Arabian Sea.  There was a week of caution and then misplaced confidence as I relaxed about food and water.  One night, the night when others fell sick with a quick acting stomach bug, my illness grew wings.  For days I had been dealing with mild “Delhi belly”, and assumed it to be par for the course.  But a full 24 hours of the most intense intestinal rebellion left me feeling dehydrated and weak.  I spent a whole day in bed reading Just Kids by Patti Smith, eating dry toast and listening to the loud-speaker broadcast of tiny Indian voices singing Christian prayers for hours.  After taking a pulse of antibiotics (forever grateful to Dana who came prepared with an American pharmacy), I was able to rebound but was sad to find that my practice and stamina suffered.  It took another few days to feel that I had enough energy to make it through a full class.  While this was a vivid experience at the time, it is probably the most dulled upon recollection of my time there.  What I remember now was, “I was really sick, sure, but I was in India!”  I look back at how lucky I was to be among such a dynamic group of people, friends really, practicing yoga, sharing meals, day-tripping to visit elephants and share beer with adorable, protective taxi drivers who always ask you if you are married, if you have children.  How fortunate to have had my palm read, to be faced with the deepest philosophical meditations and to be given the time to roll them around in my mind like stones in a rock tumbler, slowly rounding out the edges until I was able to make better sense of them.

The days that followed the training were relaxing and rejuvenating.  We took auto-rickshaw rides through sandy streets to Kovalam Beach where we basked under sunny skies and swam in water that we pretended was as pristine as it looked.  Men gawked.  Boys swarmed.  We closed our eyes to it and basked just the same.  We ate the most delicious, fresh food, watched tabla drummers and dancers over dinner.  We day-tripped back to Trivandrum to visit the temples, to shop for the things tourists shop for, to imprint upon our minds the smell of gasoline and jasmine, the sounds of people shouting and motors revving.  We talked… and talked and talked.  The way that sisters can and the way that lonely travelers do.  We missed our loved ones and so we talked some more.

On our last night we decided to stay up and wait for the drive out for our 3am flight, our eyelids falling heavy as we flipped the TV between He Man in Malayalam to Bollywood movies, passing the hours playing iPhone scrabble.  It was time to go home in the sense of the adventure having served its purpose.  We were both 500 hr-certified yoga instructors.  And we wanted to be home with our families.  But there was no urgency, no aching, no itch to flee from here and get to there.  Maybe it was the relaxed pace, the privileged roaming of yogi vagabonds with a taste for shopping.  But it was also India.

This is a place you can yearn to return to.  The people can shock you with their humor, their on-point wit.  They win you with a sideways glance and the tiny dismissive head bob that I’ve yet to be able to replicate.  They are curious and unashamed of breaching the gap between self and other:  What is your name?  Where are you from?  Are you married?  Do you have children?  All with steady eye contact.  At first it can be disarming but then quickly becomes charming, and you long for it when you return home to join the walk among the living dead: iphones and sunglasses and hurry-up and under-acknowledgement.  In India, the drift between sacred and secular is a blur of blessings and offerings, bows and honor.  Breathing the air here gives you the sense of being very small.  Self-protective barriers that prevent us from feeling part of the whole are broken down quickly here because they have to be.  Back at home you can get lost in oneness, solitude, and the anomie of yearning to feel as if you are a part of something.  There you are but one human in all of your humanity, surrounded in every direction by the humanity of everyone else.  It cannot be unseen, unacknowledged.  India makes you feel small, but not un-special.  Not apart but a part.

 


All content by Lisa Veronese. Please do not publish or copy my material without my consent.